Gregory Bateson, the Double Bind, and the Rise of Ecological Consciousness
The anthropologist Gregory Bateson has been called a lost giant of twentieth-century thought. In the years following World War II, Bateson was among the group of mathematicians, engineers, and social scientists who laid the theoretical foundations of the information age. In Palo Alto in 1956, he introduced the double-bind theory of schizophrenia. By the sixties, he was in Hawaii studying dolphin communication. Bateson’s discipline hopping made established experts wary, but he found an audience open to his ideas in a generation of rebellious youth. To a gathering of counterculturalists and revolutionaries in 1967 London, Bateson was the first to warn of a “greenhouse effect” that could lead to runaway climate change.
This article uses documents released from the Central Intelligence Agency under the Freedom of Information Act to examine Gregory Bateson’s work for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. The primary document under consideration is a position paper written by Bateson for the OSS in November 1944. In that paper, Bateson outlined a number of methods and strategies that U.S. intelligence agencies might wish to consider using in the post-war period to continue to gather intelligence in India and to help maintain colonial order in India. This 1944 OSS position paper is discussed in order to shed light both on some of the largely undocumented work done by anthropologists during the war and to understand why Bateson returned to his overall negative assessment of applied anthropology in the post-war period.