To Clifford Crellin, Elder, St. Albans PM, Society of Friends. From Ivor Catt. 25apr94 This copy printed 10/10/98
The Quaker Quagmire
I have tried to put down all my various evidence on paper, and much of it is recent. This means that all the evidence is there, but the thrust is unclear.
Here is the thrust. First, I show that communication is blocked in the Society of Friends at all levels. The effect of this suppression is that the Society of Friends acts in ways which are anti-social, for instance by acting on the out-of date and anti-social article "Friends, Prejudices and HIV" in Friends Quarterly, January 94, p23. I argue that such material can be published within the Society because it is out of date. Quaker-kosher information is information which was headlined in the Sunday Times at least two years before (and therefore cannot be part of a bid for leadership). Next, I investigate why this is so, and what results from this suffocation.
The philosophical basis for suppression is contained in Ben Pink Dandelion's thesis, that Quakers fear the evolution of leaders. The attempt to intrude new information is a bid for leadership, and so is suppressed by suppression of the offered information.
An associated idea is that having banned theological dogma, the only basis for group cohesion is procedure. (In the absence of agreed product, the group unites around form.) This is strongly asserted by Dandelion, who says that procedure is theologised. An example of a test of this thesis is as follows. D trawled for about ten ambient arguments for having no creed. He found that these arguments may not be applied to procedure. The arguments used against creed may not be considered when the subject is "The Quaker Business Method" and suchlike.
I build on this by saying that, Quakers having developed the most convoluted, baroque procedures going, we will have attracted into membership an incubus of non-Quakers (or even Quakers) who primarily worship baroque procedure. They could be called the Bureaucratic Wing of the Society. Whether Quaker or non-Quaker at heart, these people by definition do not understand that the purpose of Form is to enable Content, and that Form has to be continually re-appraised to see whether it still enables (or now obstructs) the evolving and changing nature of content. The Bureaucratic Wing would believe (and frequently say) that content which does not fit into old Form is not Quaker Business, even if it involves a subject central to Quaker tradition.
I address the theories which abound that a cabal has captured the centre of the Society and imposed its own narrow agenda. I argue that it can be shown that the evolved cabal, to the extent that it exists, defends not vested interest but vacuum. The metaphor of the Wizard of Oz applies. The test of this distinction - whether narrow interest or vacuum holds the centre - is to see that up to date information useful to any perceived vested interest is blocked. Only obsolete information pertaining to a vested interest may be published or otherwise communicated within the Society of Friends.
A good model for today's Society of Friends is the career MP who lacks other source of income. He will join a public outcry on a matter of social concern after it has reached full flood. This is why Fox and people like him are looked on with suspicion in the Society today, because in the current ambience they would be seen to act prematurely, bringing the Society into disrepute. This is quite wrong. The Society still retains a lot of the prestige derived from setting the pace in the past, and will disappear if it continues to be a "me too" organisation. By suppressing communication and as a result joining bandwaggons after the cognoscenti like Jesus and Fox have left them, it makes itself ridiculous.
The Quaker Quagmire
Thank you for your letter dated 25apr94. Language is notoriously ambiguous, and unfortunately your letter could seem to take a repeatedly personal line. I am convinced that my interest is in problems which would exist whether or not I myself existed, hence my concern that your letter says "... you have a number of matters on your mind....". If it is really thought that no problems exist in the Society except for Ivor Catt, then we have an impasse which makes a meeting futile. Diagnosis of Ivor Catt's problems and recommendations for his future could most profitably be done in his absence.
Your letter helps to illustrate a central nub of the problem that I am pointing to, and I quote;
"We now write to ask you if you would like to join with us in friendly and worshipful consideration of this concern in the hope that you will be able to tell us what is your concept of the Society, and what your vision is for the future of the Religious Society of Friends.
Perhaps we can then come to a better understanding of each other and of how the Society of Friends functions."
I raise technical matters which should not be confused with the question of being friendly, nor with the matter of being worshipful. Also, the first paragraph; ".... you have a number of matters on your mind ...." again tends to take the whole matter into the personal domain, which is what I complain about in the Society in my report. If the raising of what must be technical matters is somehow attributed to what is on my mind, and their discussion involves questions of friendliness and the calling on the assistance of god, then it would be better if the whole matter were dealt with in writing if at all.
I raise matters which have nothing to do with "... [my] concept of the Society, and what [my] vision is for the future of the Religious Society of Friends." I do not claim to direct the Society, and I have taken great pains to show that the problems I point to remain whatever might be the direction of the Society in the future. It is not that the train is driving along the wrong rails; rather, that the train does not have an engine. The Society today fails in its own or any other possible terms. Asking the Society to be competent is totally different from asking it to take a certain direction. The matter of direction might be discussed at another time, but should not be allowed to confuse the question of whether the Society is moving at all.
I for one think that the present pandemic communication barriers in the Society result from complex misconceptions, confusions and distortions of originally valid Quaker precepts. They need to be discussed in a clearminded way without recourse to worry about who is being friendly or unfriendly, who first raised the matter, who has what on whose mind, and who is or is not receiving god's guidance. No god that I might respect would want to be dragged into such technical detail. We need an honest attempt to get to the bottom of what is wrong with the Society of Friends. If, particularly after reading my 4pp and 1p analyses, Elders think that there is no damaging restriction of information flow in the Society, then any meeting is doomed to be unconstructive and so should not occur. My written theses are much more convincing than anything verbal could be.
To Elizabeth Fowler, convener of Elders, St Albans PM from Ivor Catt 25may94
Thank you for you letter dated 20may94, which ran as follows;
The Elders st St Albans have asked me to reply to your letter of 27 April. I am sorry that it has taken a while to reply.
Thank you for replying. We are sorry that you do not feel able to meet with us to talk.
However, we wish to assure you of our support and friendship and to say that we are ailling to meet with you at a mutually convenient time if you should decide that this would be helpful. Yours in Friendship, Elizabeth Fowler, convener of Elders
Whereas Joy Bell, our Convener of Overseers, tells me that when at Monthly Meeting she raised the problem of suppression of communication within the Society, she was put down, on the other hand O.S. of St. Albans Meeting tells me that everyone agrees that communication is suffocated; we have to discuss changes which will improve the situation. Recently I told Clifford Crellin that the first thing to do is to resolve whether JB or OS is correct. Do we discuss whether we have a problem, or do we discuss the problem that we know we have?
Evidence supportive of OS is in the latest Swarthmore Lecture.
Having made my point, that your previous (25apr94) letter illustrated and exacerbated the problem, I am very happy to come to talk with Elders, and trust that we will not be discussing me, or only in a subsidiary way which does not confuse the subject; suppression of communication..
From a recent writer in THE FRIEND, mid 94
Dear Ivor Catt,
Thank you for your recent correspondence [4pp and 1p referred to above, 27apr94]. I sympathise with you in your frustration, but I have nothing to say which will ease the problem.
Though it may be distasteful, it is essential to approach any change, advantageous or not (!), with a degree of finess. No frontal attack will work. After all, no idea "they" have not had could be from the Spirit within, could it? So you have to implant ideas tentatively and await developments.
Sometimes a complaint of wasting time is desirable but it always evokes annoyance too: "my favourite monologue was interrupted ..."
I do not write this in any spirit of giving you advice, but as a means of illustrating my own experience, too, similar to your own. Perhaps there is no hope for the Society: it is destined to disintegrate and wither away. Maybe that is appropriate now. It has perhaps outlived its usefulness.
But fundamentally there is so little rigour of thought, so little analysis of ideas & concepts. If the Spirit provides the right answers, there is no need for thought! How odd that the Spirit provides different answers to different people: most inconsiderate and confusing!
Nil Desperandum [signed.]
Ann Hosking defends Friends House committees against the intrusion of up to date information.
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