On ‘Ghost Light’.
Let’s leave aside the aesthetic beauty of the production, with its pattern of oppositions – light and dark, day and night, madness and sanity, stone and wood, feminine and masculine, dead and alive – which alternate until they start to bleed into each other and mingle until we are left with no certainties.
Let’s leave aside the willfully abstruse script; the wonderful way it is deliberately constructed as a jewelled puzzle box; something to be studied and pondered and interpreted rather than just passively enjoyed.
Let’s leave aside the scrumptious bevy of literary references, sly self-referencing jokes, puns, double meanings, allusions… all of which show an intense and highly self-conscious (though not glib) awareness and playfulness with language, text, genre and storytelling tradition. You want an example? How about the use of the word “wicked”, which – with wonderful irony – appears in both the Victorian usage and as 80s teenspeak. It’s the last word of the story – the last word spoken by the Doctor in the last-filmed story of the classic series. And when the Doctor uses it to describe Ace, he sounds like a Victorian moralist (of times past or present) scolding a disobedient child… but, by Ace’s usage, and by his own sly wink, he’s giving his approval to her pyromaniacal aversion to the house haunted by evil Victoriana.
Let’s look instead at what this story says about evolution.
Firstly, it gets things technically wrong by depicting evolution as working teleologically, so that the human is the ‘final’ stage when the process is finished.
Or does it?
Secondly, it’s about homo victorianus ineptus (and his spiritual descendants) railing against a theory they don’t understand because it offends their bigoted prejudices. It’s about Soapy Sam Wilberforce and our latter day creationists, terrified by the theological and cultural and social and political ramifications of a scientific discourse which emphasizes mutability and materialism.
Or is it?
Let me suggest that, while there’s some truth in the above, there’s also a lot more to it than that.
I don’t think it gets evolution wrong so much as it gets people’s ideas of evolution right. It understands that a certain kind of vulgar, reactionary, bourgeois idea of evolution pictures a ladder with the strongest, most ruthless at the top… and the weak at the bottom. It seems to depict evolution as a succession of ‘rungs’ which are climbed through mutation, achieving progress and reaching a final goal embodied in a human male… but, in its strategy as a text, it represents this as the process (progress?) of exactly the kind of reactionary, bourgeois mind that would view the Victorian gentleman as the pinnacle of evolutionary ascent.
That’s why the ultimate punishment for Josiah seems to come from within him. It’s his own idea of successive stages that makes it possible for him to fall back down through them; it’s his own idea of the superior keeping the inferior as pets that makes it possible for Control to put him on a leash.
“The Ever-Changing Moral Zeitgeist”
I referred to the reactionary ‘ladder’ version of Darwinism as “vulgar” just now, but this is not quite right. It is not really a vulgarisation, in the sense of being a popular misstatement overlaid upon the ideas of the original Darwinians. Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Galton… these were respectable, wealthy, middle-class Victorian gentlemen. Progressive for their time, they were also products of their time, as were their ideas.
Hey, have some quotes.
Here‘s the young Darwin, in his Beagle diary:
Of individual objects, perhaps nothing is more certain to create astonishment than the first sight in his native haunt of a barbarian — of man in his lowest and most savage state. One’s mind hurries back over past centuries, and then asks, could our progenitors have been men like these? — men, whose very signs and expressions are less intelligible to us than those of the domesticated animals; men, who do not possess the instinct of those animals, nor yet appear to boast of human reason, or at least of arts consequent on that reason. I do not believe it is possible to describe or paint the difference between savage and civilized man. It is the difference between a wild and tame animal: and part of the interest in beholding a savage, is the same which would lead every one to desire to see the lion in his desert, the tiger tearing his prey in the jungle, or the rhinoceros wandering over the wild plains of Africa.
This next one is from The Descent of Man, Chapter 6:
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes… will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.
Here‘s Darwin, writing to the philosopher and economist William Graham in 1881:
Remember what risks the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is. The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world.
Here‘s Darwin on gender, from The Descent of Man, Chapter 19:
The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman- whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music (inclusive both of composition and performance), history, science, and philosophy, with half-a-dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation from averages, so well illustrated by Mr. Galton, in his work on Hereditary Genius, that if men are capable of a decided pre-eminence over women in many subjects, the average of mental power in man must be above that of woman.
This next one is from T.H. Huxley (‘Darwin’s Bulldog’), writing in an essay called ‘Emancipation, Black and White‘ in 1865:
It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man. And, if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller-jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried on by thoughts and not by bites.
Here’s Francis Galton – Darwin’s polymath cousin – in his Preface to the 1892 edition of his book Hereditary Genius:
The natural ability of which this book mainly treats [‘genius’], is such as a modern European possesses in a much greater average share than men of the lower races. There is nothing either in the history of domestic animals or in that of evolution to make us doubt that a race of sane men may be formed, who shall be as much superior mentally and morally to the modern European, as the modern European is to the lowest of the Negro races.
Even today, the wackier fringes of sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology and other forms of biological reductionism continue to lend support to reactionary views on race, gender and economics.
Richard Dawkins’ idea of natural selection working mostly at the level of individual genes (which get into cartels) lends itself implicitly to concord with bourgeois ideology. Dawkins is no biological racist (though his animus towards Islam has now tipped over into culturalist racism) but his outlook implicitly supports our economic status quo. Each individual gene becomes a utility maximiser engaged in rational self-interest, each genome is a genetic economy in equilibrium. It’s quite a startling resonance. Dawkins himself even uses free market metaphors in his descriptions, explicitly saying that genomes are not “command economies”. These are metaphors, but they also turn upon him and start to power his logic.
It’s tempting to say that there’s a connection between this and his liberalism, which is individual-centred and worries about memetic cartels that threaten the equilibrium in which all the individuals supposedly live, i.e. scary old Islam. Memes may be the connective skein here. They provide an idealist cultural logic (of a very unoriginal kind, actually…) that makes human society work in an analogous way to the gene’s-eye-view of biology. Individual people get themselves into cartels via the natural selection of memes. Memes, like genes, are amoral. They succeed if they work. Religion ‘works’ in some ways that Dawkins attempts to delineate in The God Delusion, hence it reproduces. I think, by the meme logic, religions would be seen as predators. We can see the Darwinian logic whereby their fearsome features accreted, but we still have to defend ourselves from them when they attack.
So Dawkins, like so many liberals before him, ends up enmeshed (albeit by a more circuitous route than many) in the kind of idealist, culturalist thinking that has always made liberalism into the perfect… well, the perfect ‘meme’ for bourgeois ideology. Herbert Spencer’s notions of inherited genius tesselated perfectly with his libertarianism. The individual must be at liberty to succeed and rise according to his inborn talents and his own capacity to advance himself. Charity is fine, as long as it doesn’t hinder the gifted or artificially raise the useless. This is where social Darwinism and libertarianism meet, and provide a perfect cultural logic for capitalism.
Evolving to Fit a Niche
This shouldn’t surprise us. Ideas have a social basis. It’s only to be expected that ideas generated by the enormous industrial, technical, scientific and social revolutions of capitalism should bear traces of it, should fit the niches of the social ecosystem.
Natural selection was born from studying Malthus – who worried about the limits to human progress, since, as he saw it, the poor were reproducing faster than society could feed them, whereas the more continent upper classes were allowing themselves to be outbred.
Natural selection – with its niches into which species have to fit – comes from an awareness of things like specialised tasks and the division of labour: products of the new, industrial, factory society. As Marx wrote:
It is remarkable how Darwin rediscovers, among the beasts and plants, the society of England with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, ‘inventions’ and Malthusian ‘struggle for existence’.
This, to generalise, is why natural selection is an idea that popped into the heads of two guys, roughly simultaneously, both of whom were from the middle-to-upper classes of mid-Victorian Britain… and not to, say, Democritus. Darwin and Wallace both lived in a society that was the product of the Industrial Revolution (roughly a century old by the time On the Origin of Species was published), a society where all the manifestations of capitalism adumbrated by Marx above had arisen and changed life radically. Darwin and Wallace both read Malthus, both explicitly naming his Essay on Population as providing them with eureka moments. Like most educated men of his time, Darwin was highly influenced by Political Economists like Adam Smith, who provided the theoretical basis of laissez-faire capitalism (though to associate Smith simplistically with today’s ultra-free-marketeers – who fatuously profess to venerate him – is to do him a great disservice).
On this matter, it’s worth quoting (at length) from Darwin’s finest biographers, Adrian Desmond and James Moore. Writing about Darwin’s thinking in the late 1830s, they say:
Malthus had rarely been more topical. In the depth of the depression, with unprecedented distress, the poor law and pauper riots were on everybody’s lips. Workhouses were still being attacked, commissioners still being pelted. Malthus had denounced charity, and the rioters abominated anything Malthusian that propped up the New Poor Law. By now the dissident groups had come together under an umbrella organization known as Chartism: they supported the People’s Charter, a list of demands for universal suffrage, annual elections, and salaried MPs. This was a countrywide mass movement, and the New Poor Law was one of its prime targets. Christian Chartists denounced a system that would deny ‘the distressed poor their God-given right to a dignified support on their native soil.’ They were marching under banners in September that proclaimed with the Psalmist, ‘Dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.’ Chartist speeches, lambasting the ‘cruel and detestable doctrines of the Malthusians,’ were heard by tens of thousands in the manufacturing towns, and reported in The Times. Love him or loathe him. Malthus could not be ignored.
Darwin knew the theory. With Martineau his dinner guest, how could he not? Getting the poor off welfare increased competition among working men and reduced taxes. Competition was paramount, making Malthus a Whig free trader’s godsend in the 1830s. But it was Malthus’s statistics that struck Darwin with a vengeance in his primed state. Malthus calculated that, with the brakes off, humanity could double in a mere twenty-five years. But it did not double; if it did the planet would be overrun. A struggle for resources slowed growth, and a horrifying catalogue of death, disease, wars, and famine checked the population. Darwin saw that an identical struggle took place throughout nature, and he realized that it could be turned into a truly creative force.
He had thought that only enough individuals were born to keep a species stable. Now he accepted that wild populations, too, bred beyond their means. Like the architects of the poor law, nature showed no charity; individuals had to scrimp and struggle, like the growing gangs of scavengers on London’s refuse heaps, with starvation staring them in the face. Darwin gained a unique understanding from Malthus.
In Darwin’s nature, the many fall that the few might progress. Death acquired a new meaning, and there was enough of it around: with rising joblessness and homelessness, medical statisticians were compiling their ‘ledgers of death’ (mortality statistics) among the slum dwellers. Nature’s ledgers were always open; the Reaper sat, draped in black, with scratch pen permanently in hand. Progress was not so much a hymn to divine beneficence as a dirge accompanying the savage struggle. Both Darwinian science and poor law society were now reformed along competitive Malthusian lines. Ruthless competition was the norm; it guaranteed the progress of life and a low-wage, high-profit capitalist society.
Emigration might solve the pauper problem at home, but others saw these boatloads of rejects wreaking havoc abroad. Dire predictions accompanied this tidal wave of flotsam. European settlers had always been ‘harbingers of extermination to the native tribes,’ and it was prophesied that all the ‘aboriginal nations’ would be wiped out within a century. At every outpost the Beagle crew had witnessed the destruction: the Tasmanians were all but exterminated, the aborigines were dying from European diseases, General Rosas’s policy was deliberate genocide. But Darwin believed that colonial warfare was necessary ‘to make the destroyers vary’ and adapt to the new terrain. Destruction was becoming integral to his Malthusian view of humanity:
When two races of men meet, they act precisely like two species of animals. — they fight, eat each other, bring diseases to each other &c, but then comes the more deadly struggle, namely which have the best fitted organization, or instincts (ie intellect in man) to gain the day.
The ‘stronger [are] always extirpating the weaker,’ and the British were beating the lot. This imperial expansion ended the isolation of the indigenous races, and thwarted their development in other ways. As whites spread out from the Cape, the black tribes were pushed together in the interior, blending races and ending their species-making isolation. Had this not happened, Darwin speculated, ‘in 10,000 years [the] Negro [would] probably [have become] a distinct species.’
With emigration in the headlines, Lyell was convinced that animals too are driven by overpopulation to migrate. He agreed with Darwin that burgeoning species become colonizers, invading new terrain and defeating the natives. But Darwin’s population pressure was pushing species to the limit in other ways. The crush was a creative force. The overcrowding that sent boatloads to the colonies meant that only animals with a competitive edge survived.
Darwin’s biological initiative matched advanced Whig social thinking. This is what made it compelling. At last he had a mechanism that was compatible with the competitive, free-trading ideals of the ultra-Whigs. The transmutation at the base of his theory would still be loathed by many. But the Malthusian superstructure struck an emotionally satisfying chord; an open struggle with no hand-outs to the losers was the Whig way, and no poor-law commissioner could have bettered Darwin’s view. He had broken with the radical hooligans who loathed Malthus. Like the Whig grandees – safe, immune, their own world characterized by noblesse oblige — Darwin was living on a family fortune, and thrusting a bitter competition on a starving world for its own good. From now on he could appeal to a better class of audience — to the rising industrialists, free-traders, and Dissenting professionals.
So you see, nothing I’m saying is original or controversial. Moreover, none of this casts any doubt upon the empirical truths of Natural Selection. To locate the intellectual roots of a scientific theory in the political and economic context of its time… or, indeed, in the Political Economy of its time… is not necessarily to cast the slightest doubt upon its truth value (nor do I). Furthermore, a theory that arises even in the direct context of another theory need not be permanently bound to it. As Engels wrathfully wrote, defending Darwin from idiot reproaches:
However great the blunder made by Darwin in accepting the Malthusian theory so naively and uncritically, nevertheless anyone can see at the first glance that no Malthusian spectacles are required to perceive the struggle for existence in nature…
Darwin delayed publishing his thesis partly because he dreaded the prospect of bolstering the radical sectors of society who might use evolution as ammunition against church and state. He was a thoroughly respectable gentleman, terrified of the mob and of radicals.
Galton pioneered eugenics, and ideas about hereditary genius or greatness. He considered ‘greatness’ to be a heritable trait, advocating financial incentives to ‘great’ people to marry and procreate.
Spencer, often unfairly maligned as a “social-Darwinist” was actually more a pioneer of what we today would call libertarianism… which, in the hands of the ideologues of capitalism, has become an ideology of free market freedom at all costs.
Of course, all these progressive, liberal, forward-thinking, modern-minded men were pioneers of the new world that was coming to replace the old, the new world of free trade and mass capitalism.
That’s what Josiah is. He’s the new man. He’s the forward-thinking, liberal, progressive, modern Victorian scientist. He’s the guy who wants to “restore the blighted British Empire to its former power and vigour” by doing away with the obsolete old aristocratic figurehead (the Crowned Saxe-Coburg) and replace it with himself, the ultimate self-made “man of property”… whose advancement is built on keeping the poor down and helpless, locked away in the darkness.
He manifests a seemingly sincere horror and terror of Control. He calls her “a depraved monstrosity”, “quintessence of wickdness, corruption incarnate”, “a foul and base creature pitted against me”.
Like the men of progress who herded workers into the new urban hell holes of industrialisation, crammed them into infested hovels so they could slave in factories, sweated their children on production lines, etc., Josiah must neutralise the reality of this oppression – to himself as much as to anyone else – by demonising the people he is oppressing. If the person you’ve consigned to a dark hole is evil and threatening, then why be ashamed of cheating them of their lives, of their chance to progress and advance?
Of course, like Josiah, the men who built wealth and power on the factory system and the slum were also terrified of the people they crammed into those factories and slums. Their ideology was that of enterprise, of ruthless competition, of the Malthusian struggle, of the rightful victory of the most effective self-seeker and self-maker… and they were only too aware that these ideas cut both ways.
Remember that Control tries to rise through social mobility. She also becomes a ruthless self-seeking dealer and eventually becomes Josiah’s mirror image and even takes over from him. Fashioned by Josiah’s system, educated by reading The Times, she is a product of the hierarchy she was trapped under. Control was left behind, but she became integrated into the power structure by being dominated by it. She taught herself using the imperial paper of record, learning to aspire to upward social mobility, wanting to “be a ladylike”, wanting to steal Josiah’s power and take his place.
The people in the dark holes could just as easily seek for themselves and ruthlessly compete. Most avenues to escape were closed to them by poverty and prejudice and religion, or thwarted by drink and oblivion… but, lurking at the corner of the eye, there was always the escape offered by the mob, the riot, the rebellion, the revolution.
Those modern, progressive, liberal, forward thinking Josiahs were all perpetually haunted by spectral tumbrils and baskets, by the downward whooshing sounds of slanted blades. The English had achieved their bourgeois revolution without any unfortunate eruptions as in France… but they all knew how close they’d come. They all remembered Tom Paine. Hell, like Sir Leicester Dedlock, they all remembered Wat Tyler. They trembled and sobbed (literally, in the case of Spencer Walpole) when the Chartists took over Hyde Park. And, much as they resented the aristocracy and the relics of the old ways, they hated the common people more. Even as they sympathized over poverty, they hated the idea of the poor unifying to remedy their own situation. The memory of the guillotine was, for the respectable Victorian gentlemen, a symbol of the mob slaughtering their proper rulers. The new men of the Victorian industrial era didn’t want that kind of thing happening again, any more than did the old aristos. They wanted the poor to stay poor (maybe less poor but still poor) and the workers to stay acquiescent as they – the new men – gently ousted the old landowners and Lords and Tories from the top spot. At best, there would be some reforms and alleviation of the worst suffering… but it should come from above or not at all.
Darwin, for instance, wanted Tories to die out. He wanted slavery done away with. But he wanted these remnants replaced with the Liberal ‘poor laws’ and ‘reform acts’: measures to squash the poor still further into industrial servitude, to create a kind of charitable penal system for paupers and placate the Chartists with compromises that simply extended the property qualification for the franchise. These were the modern ideas of the modern men. Meanwhile, the people were to be protected from dangerous ideas that might chip away at the ideological power of church and state… while the modern men used these dangerous ideas as the ideology of ruthless competition, free trade and industrial exploitation.
Josiah is a great reformer. A modern, Whiggish, propertied imperialist. He is the Survey and he has taken such good stock of the world he was sent to assimilate and copy that he has become a part of it. He is Victorian England, with all his rotten hypocrisy, his callous disregard, his arrogant self-promotion. He poses as an enemy of the stuffy, out-of-touch clerical backwardness of the old order. The natural laws of evolution are turned, by him, into an ideology of ruthless self-advancement. If Darwin’s scientific inquiries lead him to understand that natural selection worked as ‘reproduction of the best adaptation’ then the society which quickly embraced his ideas comprehended them as an ideology of ‘survival of the fittest’, with fittest always meaning strongest and richest and harshest. Darwin himself was not, as we’ve seen, averse to seeing the hierarchies of his own time and place as being buttressed by the theory he had developed. That’s Josiah. He’s the man who still uses evolution as apologia or acceptance of the unjust, imperial, neoliberal status quo (either in crude ways like every market raider or in superficially more sophisticated ways like the sociobiologists).
Fitter, Happier, More Productive
‘Ghost Light’ shows the society mirrored in the system set up by an entity that has shaped itself according to this society and its new ideology.
The commercial nature of the society that has perverted this alien experiment into a miniaturised and essentialised portrait of Victorian bourgeois society shows in the way the Doctor is offered money to be an assassin, and how he eventually has to make a “deal” with Control.
The racist nature of this society shows in the imperialist ramblings of the Rider-Haggardian lunatic Redvers… in the bigotry of Inspector Mackenzie, whose diatribe about gypsies also refers to the essential idea of social-Darwinism, that it’s “in the blood”.
The sexist nature of this society shows in the way Josiah is served by a houseful of women, including the wife and daughter of the man he murdered, two women that he has simply inherited or appropriated in a ruthlessly Darwinian property takeover. They are literally part of the household, they come with it like the fixtures and fittings.
And the Victorian science which runs rampant and insane within Gabriel Chase is the perfect picture of a bourgeois society… a discourse of totalising taxonomy that wanted to collect, name, label, categorize, quantify every part of nature; arranging them all on hierarchical tables that mirrored its own conception of itself as a pyramid of power, desert and worth; anatomising specimens as though itemising the components of industrial machines; explaining the functioning of living things as though constructing them anew from cogs and pistons; killing and silencing and stilling and transfixing everything natural and chaotic with the pin of authority, displaying them all under the glass of respectability; crystallising knowledge of nature into the ideology of power; reserving such knowledge into cultural capital, to be distributed by gentlemen of largesse to the extent that they thought good for the multitude.
Meanwhile, Light is a perversion and denial of both the Christian angel and the evolutionist scientist. He is the drag factor that pulls everything back. He is the worst aspect of the science that has to disrupt and destroy in order to understand things. He stands over the dead, dismembered body of a maid and says “I wanted to see how it worked, so I dismantled it”. If he’s religion holding back science, he’s also science taking things apart and being unable to reassemble them. Reductionism run mad. Unable to cope with a barrage of change, flux, imagination, fiction and nonsense, he seizes up until he becomes a stone idol. A statue of an angel, or of one of the DWEMs that line the inside of the Nat Hist. Doesn’t matter. He reveals their fundamental similarity. It is impossible for him to cope with reality as an immensely complex web of dialectical inter-reactions. He can travel at the speed of thought but he can’t think.
(The irony being that Natural Selection ultimately supports this – to use a risky phrase – ‘dialectic of nature’, at least to an extent, by revealing that all species are transitional, snapshots taken from an endless chain of change, isolatable only in theory from the relationships in which they nestle, always influencing and being influenced by their environment and their contact with each other. The little changes imperceptibly become massive alterations, thus transforming quantity into quality. The apparent opposites actually exist in unity. And so on.)
The Doctor, meanwhile, sides with the anarchy of teenage emotional and political anger. He can’t be a scientist in the Josiah or Light sort of way. He loathes bus stations, with all their timetables and categories and delineated waiting areas… with their hierarchies and schedules and zones and order. He sides with those who want to blow up the Victorian edifice for what it shares with the kind of thinking that leads racists to firebomb the flats of Asian families.
(While we’re on the subject, lets dispense with this notion that the line “white kids firebombed it” is an embarrassing clunker. I lived near Southall in the early-to-mid 80s. I remember, as a child, hearing discussions about what some of my fellow “white kids” were getting up to in the area often called “Little India”. I remember the racism of the “white kids” in the dark blue uniforms, protecting National Front “white kids” while arresting Indian youths on the assumption that their bikes were stolen. I was aware of the “white kid” coppers who’d killed anti-racist protesters with impunity. I found out, as an adult, about the riots and protests that were the inevitable result of such racism. So, basically, if you cringe at the line “white kids firebombed it” then I submit that you have missed the point.)
The Doctor sides with those who just want to explore the catalogue rather than fix everything into place and create a static tyranny of categories and labels and authority. That’s why the story concentrates on the binaries that bleed into each other, on the transgression of categories. Ace and Gwendoline put on male clothes and it causes a hell of a stir, but it demonstrates that such fixed categories are just snapshots of evolution. And, of course, people can change because they exist in a social context rather than just a biological one. Humans self-create meaning. Meaning self-creates meaning. Dialectically.
This is what really bugs Light, I think, just as it bugs Josiah and Matthews in different ways. Light, of course, is the apocalyptic intensification of their joint horror at the transgression of categories… particularly by those who had no part in drawing them up and making them law. That’s the deep reason for the apparently over-the-top description of Light and his Survey as “an evil older than time itself”. Light is evil in the senses that Terry Eagleton identified. We ask in vain what his survey was supposed to achieve. There was no purpose. It had the “lethal purity” of pointlessness. Light is against ‘Being’ because he doesn’t understand that Being is all about change. Ultimately this was always going to lead to an attempt at negation, at annihilation. Meaningless in himself – because he does not change… or at least doesn’t think that he does – Light wishes to expunge all meaning. He’s the angelic cleanser. All information that is not him must be burned away.
As that eminent Victorian Gerard Manley Hopkins put it (quoted by Eagleton): “Flaws, loose ends, and rough approximations are what evil cannot endure. This is one reason why it has an affinity with the bureaucratic mind. Goodness, by contrast, is in love with the dappled, unfinished nature of things.”
The irony with which the Doctor defeats Light is that very “unfinished nature” of all ‘Being’, even his own. Light (“Imagination, comma, lack of”) cannot conceive that any information can be invented, reworked, recreated by people. The very dialectic of change within himself is enough to ossify him from within. He is literally out-evolved by himself.