....CAUSES OF WAR ....(see also: PERPETUAL WAR )


............................. .............. A.S.Neill 'Summerhill' 1962

What kind of childhood gave rise to a Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheyney, Sharon, Bush and Blair - and their many cronies and supporters? How might they have turned out after a few crucial childhood years spent enjoying the freedom of Summerhill?

Or are such problematic members of the dominant 5% immune from environmental influences? For answers click HERE (Oliver James) - or for an alternative analysis click HERE.)

A note about 'Summerhill' and its philosophy:

Summerhill was and is a school inaugurated by Alexander Neill (1883-1973) in 1921. Its philosophy of freedom, respect and trust has received enthusiastic support from many professionals and commentators around the world. Renowned psychologists, philosophers and celebrities including Russell, Shaw, and Henry Miller have applauded Neill's ground-breaking work. From the book: "Neill described himself as 'only a doer, not a profound thinker'; others have called him a genius."

Children at Summerhill were free to hire and fire their teachers, take lessons if and when they chose, and debate every aspect of how the school was run - and their decisions were respected and honoured by Neill and the staff. Neill saw the value of turning apparent 'logic' on its head in order to get at truth. As a child (and also now) I was a fiercely critical observer of how adults - especially schoolteachers - frequently abused their authority. This is why Neill's philosophy makes such good sense to me. To most people, though, it makes bad sense - which seems obvious from the rarity of its practice. This, presumably, is because ingrained or inculcated bias virtually always rules over evidence and even personal experience. Understanding this kind of bigotry is of central importance in explaining our predicament of a world strewn with war and hate; but so also is understanding the motives of those in power who strive to maintain the status quo.

Psychologists agree with Neill because his results correspond with their own, and was the fruit of many years of hard and doubtlessly frustrating work. Let me offer an example:

The usual response to a kid who steals money is: withdrawal of privileges, withholding pocket money… Neill would regard the second option the least appropriate since his solution is to provide the kid with a generous regular income. When observed dispassionately it becomes obvious that the common reaction will only exacerbate the problem, whereas Neill's will solve it permanently - assuming the stealing is not attention-seeking or some other displacement anomaly which Neill would have spotted. Another example:

What do you do if a kid suddenly throws mud at a door you're painting? If he knew the kid was stable and simply being mischievous, Neill says he would swear at him heartily - ie, Neill is no 'soft-touch'. Otherwise, Neill's reply is a shock to most people. It is to join with the kid in his mud-slinging - because, he says, the kid's salvation is more important than the door, and one must stay on the kid's side while he lives out his hate in order for him to become social again.

After a little thought this also is obvious, but how many of us would have both the insight and the courage to pursue such a constructive solution?

Many of the children who attended Summerhill came from backgrounds that would have tested the mettle of the most tolerant and composed adult - regardless of affluence. It may have taken him years in severe cases, but Neill virtually always corrected the problems, and by doing so presented a formidable challenge to the hare-brained orthodoxy that had prevailed for hundreds of years - and in spite of the wealth of conflicting knowledge, continues to prevail today. This, quite probably, and as Neill's caption at the top of this page suggests, has been a major factor in the perpetuation of war, cruelty, greed and many other injustices that continue to plague the world.

So Neill relied on practical experience, not books, not simplistically reasoned ideas of logic or justice - nor any moral idealism as has been so inappropriately and destructively imposed on vulnerable children by 'life hating' (Neill's adjective) puritans - whose distorted motives Neill analyses in detail in his book together with the appalling consequences. In fact, it was especially this and his recognition of the harm in these approaches that led him to reject them as vehemently as he did. And it was the victims of such misguided pressures and indoctrination, in particular, who he helped most by his methods - which worked best with children under age 12.

Unlike many, these children were able to escape what might otherwise have become the lifetime of unhappiness that commonly afflicts victims of childhood repression and indoctrination - and the consequent passing-on of the misery. This has been born-out in documented interviews with former pupils, and in a reunion that was shown on TV a couple of years ago (I believe the school's 80th anniversary).

Many of us, it is clear - most evidently in elite circles - will have suffered varying degrees and types of the childhood repression which has kept alive the consequences described in that arresting caption. Shouldn't we therefore all strive to rise above our narrow-mindedness and carry Neill's work into the wider world, and so attempt to eliminate the ongoing suffering as far as is possible?

Considering the wealth of evidence for the unsuitability of established attitudes towards child rearing and teaching, and consistent proof of its failure, it seems extraordinary that there remains such enormous resistance to change. Is it merely persistent conservatism, or is the issue so huge that it needs the inertia of a planet to shift it? Or do those who influence or control these issues truly believe, beyond all reason and experience, that the old methods work best and empirical psychology is somehow mistaken? Most ominous and likely of all: doesn't the Establishment have a motive for preserving what it ostensibly likes us to believe is merely a natural 'fear of change'?

Reforming teacher and writer John Holt quotes an earlier essay in his 'The Underachieving School' 1970:

"Our efforts for peace are doomed to fail unless we understand that the root causes of war are.… the kind of men who must have and will find scapegoats, legitimate targets for the disappointment, envy, fear, rage, and hatred that accumulate in their daily lives. The man who hates or despises his work, his boss, his neighbours, and above all himself, will find a way to make other men suffer and die for his own missing sense of freedom, competence, dignity, and worth.

The fundamental educational problem of our time is to find ways to help children grow into adults who have no wish to do harm. We must recognise that traditional education, far from having ever solved this problem has never tried to solve it. Indeed, its efforts have, if anything, been in exactly the opposite direction. An important aim of traditional education has always been to make children into the kind of adults who were ready to hate and kill whomever their leaders might declare to be their enemies. But even those societies that did not set out to make their children warlike, jingoistic, xenophobic, ready to see every stranger as an enemy, have never tried to make them feel that the moral code that governs their relations with their neighbours reaches out to include all of mankind.

The fact is that all the moral codes by which men have lived have contained an escape clause, sometimes implied, but often clearly stated. In one way or another these codes have said what our Ten Commandments say: thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not bear false witness, and so on. But then they add a footnote, that these rules only apply when you are talking about Us - Our Tribe, Our Kingdom, Our Faith.

When we start talking about Them, those people on the outside, strangers, heathen unbelievers, then the moral code goes out the window, and everything is allowed. Lie, steal, cheat, kill, destroy, torture - nothing is too bad; in fact, the worse, the better. [When I wrote this we had not yet begun to drop napalm and white phosphorus on men, women, and children in peasant villages in Vietnam. I had not thought, somehow, that we would go so far.]

Human society has never until now had to come to grips with the source of human evil-doing, which is the wish to do evil.... The moral codes worked at least fairly well, within their limited frames of reference, precisely because there always were people whom it was alright to hate and injure as much as you wished. And mankind was able to afford the escape clause, was able to survive the destruction of his enemies that his moral code allowed him, because his means of destruction were so limited, and because it took most of his time and energy just to keep alive.…

But no more…. The means to kill tens and hundreds of millions of people, even to destroy all life on earth, lie ready to hand. And cheap to boot. The man who does not value his own life, and hence feels that no life has value may not be able to make Doomsday machines in his own basement, but with the vote, or even without it, he can get his government to make them and eventually to use them. We do not, in fact, need even this much will to do evil, to accomplish the destruction of mankind. It will take heroic efforts, supported by an undreamed-of willingness to risk, trust, and sacrifice, to collect and destroy all the weapons of mass destruction that have already been made, and to ensure that no more such weapons will ever be made again. Those who are not ready and determined to do this have only to hang back, to obstruct, to keep us going along as we are, in order to ensure the end of the world."

Holt poignantly concludes:

Against this background and in this light, the argument of A.S. Neill of Summerhill, that the business of education is above all else to make happy people must be seen to be, not frivolous and sentimental, but in the highest degree serious, weighty, and to the point. For the sake of man's survival we must indeed learn to make people who will want and will be able to live lives that are full, meaningful and joyous. This means that we must give children, at home and in school, what few of them now have - freedom, dignity, and respect.

In other words, what we most need to work effectively for peace is not more of this or that kind of learning but more of certain qualities of mind and heart. The rich nations are doing less and less each year to help the development of the poor nations, not because they don't know enough, but because they don't care enough. What we lack is not technology or resources, but sympathy and generosity. And these are not developed in school by telling children how important they are, or making them, under threat of punishment and disgrace 'share' everything they own with anyone who happens to ask for it. They will be developed only by creating in the school an atmosphere of freedom, respect, and trust, within which true kindness and generosity can be expected to grow.

....................................................................John Holt 1970

A Note on Happiness:

No secondary school I've ever known has placed happiness anywhere on its list of priorities.

Update August 2009 - just found this little internet resource: 'learning & thinking'. It includes many worthwhile points, yet is submerged in a kind-of passivity... one is not, it seems, permitted to criticise one's highly controlled milleu - nor make plans to circumvent or modify it, or the hierarchy that governs it. If you're happy to accept and work within the crushing straight-jacket of a status quo as ordained by 'authority', tradition, the Establishment, then fine - but look in the mirror if you want to recognise the extent of freedom you actually have. But maybe this is a start; maybe the sinister tones will be elimitated? I'm not holding my breath!

Happy people don't normally go around harming others, anymore than if those others were their own deeply loved mother or child? Why, then, do we find the world rife with rip-offs and attempted rip-offs, with millions in poverty while others gorge on excess unearned wealth, with war, destruction, massacres and plunder like never before?

Us ordinary folk - at least when we don't look too far beyond our front door - may be reasonably happy. We may never conceive to swindle another individual. But what about those who are in control: the elite who make our laws, who, to gain our support, fool many of us into believing they are the most decent, respectable, morally upright and caring people imaginable - when in fact, obviously, most of them are precisely the opposite? Worse: nearly all our MPs, and (worse still) those who stand against them, fool us in this way. This means we have no choice than to accept betrayal. But what kind of people are these who gain power under a pretext which they ditch at the first opportunity? One thing we know for sure: they are definitely not happy people. Otherwise, wouldn't they find the whole concept of deceit alien, and harm to other people an abhorrence? Such a person would resign immediately - or else sound the alarm and get sacked - rather than partake in the corrupt political clamour for power that grips so many of those who claim to represent us. If what Tony Banks tells us in his aptly titled co-authored little eye-opener 'Out of Order' (1993) is true, then the first qualification if you're anticipating a political career is to be virtually without scruples - it explains a lot, as does the following item: