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!Pdf ⚆ The Unconscious Civilization ♶ In this intellectual tour de force, Saul argues that the West now toils unconsciously in the grip of a stifling corporatist structure that serves the needs of business managers and technocrats as it promotes the segmentation of society into competing interest groups and ethnic blocks
Sort of a follow up to Voltaire s Bastards which simply asked a lot of questions This book begins to offer something in the way of an answer out of the predicament of modern civilization. There is absolutely no indication that the Industrial Revolution imbalance had a self rectifying mechanism to archieve any social balance by which I mean reasonably shared prosperity It was the citizenry and democracy that forced the economic mechanism into a socially acceptable and reasonably stable shape what I would call the shape of a civilization The November 1929 issue of McCall s Magazine celebrated this victory supposed period of unstoppable market led prosperity with a conversation between the novelist Sinclair Lewis, columnist Walter Lippmann and Will Durant, the popular historian of philosophy The atmosphere in this conversation was summarized by the editor in his introduction Our prosperity is doubtless very great Invention, machinery, labor economizing devices, keep devoloping so vigorously that, despite those who believe the machines will soon overwhelm and enslave us, both our output and our leisure time keep increasing The worker, the artisan as well as the housewife in the kitchen, have leisure today than was dreamed of a generation ago By the time the magazine actually reached the stands, businessmen were throwing themselves out of windows and the latest ehm ehm depression had begun After that it seemed as if we had finally learned our lesson learned that the marketplace could not learn its lesson Therefore it was up to the individual as citizen, through a careful definition and implementation of the public good, to make sure that the innate economic imbalance benefited from the rules of the civilization.Yet, here we are, a mere 65 years later, with a financial market which by comparison makes that of 1929 seems responsible, a stock market which, once again, moves in a manner unrelated to investment in real production, declining real wages for the vast majority of the population, chronic unemployment not as serious as that of 1929 but far higher than statistics admit and high enough to stultify the economy Finally, real growth disappeared two decades ago and has yet to return.Even astounding, we keep on hoping that we will rediscover prosperity through this mechanism called market forces In imitation of the nineteenth century and the 1920s, we are deregulating everything in sight and even restructuring government and education along industry lines We have fallen back in love with an old ideology that has never paid off in the past Published in 1995. The book discusses the phenomena of neo conservatism, the economy s shift from the expansion of the 1960s, and related changes in society However, that s not exactly what it s about The author s view is that the central problems today are people thinking in terms of being part of a group rather than as an individual, people operating according to ideologies , and people not thinking and questioning everything as Socrates did and the philosophical perspectives behind these tendencies.In some ways, the book seems oriented to academic types On the other hand, he feels academic jargon is a problem, and he doesn t use academic jargon as we usually understand that However, there are questions about his use of some words For instance, he opposes ideology as if he defines that as a dogma immune to evidence Of course, humans often hold on to beliefs strongly than is called for by cold logic But the author never attempts to distinguish efforts to construct a system of ideas which reflects reality as close as is humanly possible versus ideology There s also some possible confusion in his use of corporatism as meaning reducing the significance of individuals and thinking as group members not necessarily having anything to do with shareholder owned businesses corporations , although there are many references to the economy, company management, etc He has much to say about problems in the economy and the role of corporation management, but he blames managers and technocrats while saying little about owners investors playing a role in decisions or their choice of executives to make decisions He speaks positively of capitalists I assume the owner of a privately owned business He even refers to the bad managers and technocrats as being honorable men This seems to ignore the existence of a minority of ruthlessly selfish businesspeople For the majority, a unique definition of honorable would be needed which permits the use of misleading ads, the laying off of workers who had no say in business decisions after management makes poor choices and executives don t resign themselves , not taking a proactive stand against dishonest businesses which would be in the self interest of honest businesses , etc Instead, the problems are attributed to ideology or faulty philosophy The fact the end result of this bad thinking appears to be a consistent pattern of increasing income inequality doesn t lead the author to suspect simple greed is the primary issue.In view of that, it s interesting that the author has an extended discussion of Socrates and Plato He explains that Plato s earlier writings portray Socrates as democratic, and his later writings as elitist While to me, this sounds like Plato succumbing to the temptations of privilege, the author perceives it as a wrong turn in philosophy.Generally, the book left me with the impression his solution is individuals using the Socratic method to think things through and vote in elections based on that While he wrote about suppression of labor unions as a bad thing, he didn t really speak of unions, civil rights groups, consumer groups and the like as being good things His think as an individual approach may run counter to such groups Meanwhile, he also used the term interest groups as a bad thing Much of the time if he used the term in a context which suggested particular kinds of groups, they seemed to be business groups or others with similar goals Yet, in the real political world, interest groups is also used to refer to unions, women s groups, environmental groups, etc I m left thinking he may advocate individuals not participate in these groups Yet, it seems to me that would put average people at a greater disadvantage relative to the wealthy.On one level, he understands that the shaping of society has to do with the influence of money, but generally expresses the problem as philosophy He says the rich should look beyond their selfish financial benefit It s almost as if all of us individuals should be encouraging the rich to study philosophy and attain enlightenment, which will then cause them to behave better and we ll all live happily ever after But if Socrates own student Plato, a philosopher, become an anti democratic elitist, what can we expect of today s rich and CEOs In the last chapter, he explains the industrial revolution s first century actually saw a lowering of living standards for most people It was only in the 20th century that people acted to reverse that However, in his discussion of the efforts to improve livings standards he doesn t really speak of organizations such as unions, women s rights, civil rights groups, etc I m left with the impression that he is telling us that if we take on the billionaires and all their minions it should be with neither organizations nor a system of understanding of the social forces who would stop us. For those of us who are at odds with the free market mumbo jumbo machine and the endless references to Frederick Hayek and Ludwig von Mises as the godheads of the so called market, John Ralston Saul will help to unwind the knots of ideology and show where the holes are in not only free market ideology but in America s drift into corporatism His contention The most important factor in contemporary civilization individualism is being hijacked and re defined in such a way as to so limit us into believing self interest is the equivalent of individualism, and that unless we begin to inculcate ourselves with the dismissed ideals of obligation and publc good we are heading away from democracy itself Saul points out, for example, that Adam Smith s The Wealth of Nations is not his only contribution to the liberal democratic tradition s juncture with capitalism, and that Smith would himself be quite miffed that another work of his, Theory of Moral Sentiment is casually being ignored by the self interest crowd. i encountered this book just after my daughter was born It articulated the sense she had given me, about civic responsibility, and my connection, however tenuous to society around me.it is still the most concise argument available that demonstrates the need for citizenship and the dangers of narcissistic individualism.it should be in highschool curriculums everywhere. This book is the written edition of the Massey Lectures John Ralston Saul gave in 1995, and is a densely philosophical treatise on where, in his opinion, society in general is heading This is neither a happy book, nor is it likely that it has been well understood by many who may have or will read it His concepts are deeply troubling and as he states a number of times, it is incredibly difficult to remove ourselves from our normal mindset and see our political and societal situations from such a different perspective While this is not an easy read, I do think it a necessary one, especially for those in, or on the edge of the political spectrum. I am always so disappointed to read such great books only to see them fail to change anything I read this book so long ago, maybe 15 years ago, and still the dumbness of our culture pervades It taught me the difference between being a mob thinker or a true thinker Loved this book It probably also messed me up for ever achieving success in the corporate world. The denial of the public good in favor of private interests is a theme which gives this book as much relevance now as when it first came out In this critique of modern society the author, J R Saul, raises the humanist banner of Socrates against the ideological standard of Plato.Since about 1870, he tells us, Western individualism has given way to corporatism, the idea that power involves only group interests The corporatist world view denies that individuals can be a source of social legitimacy in light of the manifest differences among them Humans, so the theory goes, are incapable of objective thinking their needs, even their very speech, reduce simply to self interest The displacement of the individual by group interests has given rise to an unconscious civilization in which people specialize in one subject and suffer almost childlike ignorance of other branches of knowledge.Why would corporatism, or group interest, necessarily undermine the public good The answer lies in the uniquely disinterested nature of the public good as opposed to the inherent self interest of groups A significant corollary of this definition is that the opposite of self interest isn t altruism at all, as is commonly supposed, but rather disinterest A society based in the power of group interest has disturbing deficiencies Absent the disinterested authority of the public good, individuals are reduced to their immediate needs Freedom becomes linked in people s minds with a winner take all version of capitalism The educational system actually impedes integrated thought as it changes to turn out a class of technicians and small picture experts serving some private group or other, usually business interests A society with a weak sense of the public good has no memory from which to act By the same token it becomes directionless, with a decreasing capacity to plan for the future Knowledge, in such a scheme, cannot be converted to meaningful action by individuals Free speech has little practical effect on policies Public discourse lacks any appeal to human decency, grinding down instead into discussions among professionals about technicalities Economically, a false capitalism emerges in which efficiency substitutes for effectiveness, and decisiveness crowds out thoughtful action Low interest rates lead to inflation, not growth Economic activity gets dissipated in property speculation, mergers and acquisitions, and privatization of public goods People, for their part, become functions, rewarded by their ability to integrate into groups in which loyalty trumps merit Such a structure strands us with a sense of being entrapped in an imaginary dialectic yielding ineluctable conclusions Neoliberalism and the end of history have arrived.By contrasting the public good to private groups, the author exposes in libertarian thinking the fallacy of the excluded middle When libertarians limit the scope of the public good, Saul argues, power simply moves into the hands of private organizations, not private individuals That s because any privatization scheme involves three players, not two Individuals are little than a third wheel to this power play between public and private The dangerous end product of the elimination of the public good from decisions is power without responsibility How can we counteract that The author suggests vaguely that we insert the individual wherever we can into ongoing debates and discussions While individuals may not be able to change policies, they may be able to affect the dynamics of a society Above all, individuals should develop personal virtues antithetical to a corporatist social structure, virtues such as common sense, creativity, personal ethics, memory and reason.By looking carefully at the concept of the public good, Saul orients readers dramatically away from useless thinking about current social trends The book is engaging, if at times rhetorical Fifteen years in print, it is relevant today than it was when it first appeared The concise, innovative thinking the author brings to these pages makes the book a must read for any reflective citizen anywhere in the developed world. Unconscious Civilization should be read by anyone interested in understanding the present course of our economic, political, and social constructs and therefore our society as a whole It is uncompromising, perspicacious, refreshing, inspiring, and no less relevant to our present context than the day it was written.This is not garden variety contrarian pessimism Saul s criticism is not designed to inflate the reader s perception of his own importance or intelligence Rather, it is all rooted in history and in the words of well known Western thinkers who he shows are poorly understood despite our society s supposed reverence for them More importantly, he presents a path forward not in terms of his own limited perspective but in terms of the fundamental qualities of human beings and the capacity of a society of engaged and disinterested citizens to exceed the limitations of ideology.