Autumn Equinox 2018: Straight and Crooked Thinking (1930)

EQ is a reimagining, half a century on, of Margaret Mead and others’ choice of the Vernal Equinox of 1969 as Earth Day*, but coupling it with the Autumn Equinox to make twinned biannual Earth Days. But equally, equinoxes are excellent prompts for clear, rational and logical thinking. Hence a post about this great book, published in 1930.

Straight and Crooked Thinking is the work of the educationalist and psychologist Robert Thouless, written in the late 1920’s as a popular book “because…it was important for people to understand their unconscious impulses towards irrationality and how those irrational forces could be a major cause of war.” (Preface to the 2011 edition). Clearly he recognised the rising tide of fascism and totalitarianism early, and that they would employ tactics of false argument and appeal to primitive emotional responses.

I was introduced to the book by an English teacher at school, and bought the paperback while at university. It has had a totemic value for me ever since, and when building EQ the logical underpinning – that equinoxes are truly Earth Days, and that life on earth has a moment of equality – equi-nox – on these days – seemed crucial. Equinoxes make good earth days for notions of stewardship and sustainability for sure, but also for clear-eyed, un-delusional thinking about our planetary condition. “Save the Planet”? The planet is fine, thanks; it’s what we have done, and can do in reparation as well as continued catastrophic despoliation on its surface that is the issue…

Whenever I looked Straight and Crooked Thinking appeared to be out of print, but his grandson Christopher had in fact republished a fifth edition in 2011, on the wishes of the author. He is a conservationist by profession, having worked mainly with African wildlife. There is a good online resource and many other books on the same lines, but it is the lesson from history that this book uniquely provides. A wise man from 1928 speaks directly to 2018. As relevant as ever? Your call.

The book ends with an appendix: “Thirty seven dishonest tricks commonly used in argument, and the methods of overcoming them”. The preface confirms what I had seen in a Wiki-search (…but I don’t believe all I read on the ‘net); that the book was issued to American troops in WWll to arm them against false argument.

* This at the very beginning of the environment movement. And the spring equinox lasted but a year; Earth Day 1970 was on April 22nd, where it has (quietly) remained since. Now, with the greater urgency of confirmed man-made climate change, the use of real Earth Days and doubling the frequency of days for environmental action are two of the most useful attributes of equinoxes.

2 thoughts on “Autumn Equinox 2018: Straight and Crooked Thinking (1930)

  1. Thanks, Martin! My climate change scientist friend will be very interested in this too – and, as we are learning all too frequently these days, there is nothing new under the sun. Prophets are always fascinating though, and welcome!

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