online: 1 december 2003
modified: 2 december 2003

30 november 2003 prosperity and illusion

12:08 Outdoor cafe. Sunday morning. Many eating out of doors. Difficult, amidst signs of well-clothed prosperity, to perceive blue sky and thin cloud and fresh air and bare trees as greater and more interesting than the sight of wealth, comfort and obedience...

A small child chases pigeons, a man sweeps up leaves and food scraps as we eat. Most people are talking, some listen. A couple with closed eyes rest their heads together in the sunlight. Now the man opens his eyes and looks around as he smokes a cigar. An artificial tooth, made of gold, is detached as I eat a nut tartlet and I put it in my wallet for safe keeping.

At this I realise that I too am quite prosperous though I often think of myself as poor. I have good clothes and gold teeth and a gold frame to my spectacles - and a warm flat and this hand held computer and hundreds of books and other possessions. And as I think of all this I think also of the very few possessions, and the priceless culture, of tribal existence - and the awfulness of industrial culture, if such it can be called, the culture of materialism and unnameable wrongness... What exactly is wrong - it's difficult to say.

In the last few days I've been re-reading Raymond Aron's account of 'the main currents' of sociological thought* - and I'm impressed by his descriptions of the conflict between scientific truth and the imaginary nature of culture: cannot explain by means of the logico-experimental method what the social order actually is without destroying its foundation. Society ... is held together only by feelings, which are not true but which are effective. If the sociologist shows people the wrong side of the embroidery or what goes on behind the scenes, he runs the risk of destroying indispensible illusions.

... This is the contradiction peculiar to our sociologists: the contradiction between the need for scientific precision in the analysis of our society and the conviction that scientific propositions cannot unite men, since the coherence and order of every society is always maintained by ultra-, infra-, or super-rational beliefs.**

Is that the difficulty? That materialism blinds us to all that is truly of value? ... But 'value' is an idea I detest!

*Raymond Aron, Main Currents in Sociological Thought: 1, Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, Tocqueville, 1965, 2, Durkheim, Pareto, Weber, 1967, Translated by Richard Howard and Helen Weaver, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex 1968 and 1970.

**The quotations are from Raymond Aron's description of Emile Pareto's thought and appear on page 13 of volume 2.

As I type it out these quotations I wonder how they relate to deconstruction and to the writing of Jacques Derrida? I suspect that Raymond Aron and Emile Pareto, though ignorant of deconstruction, were thinking and writing somewhat deconstructively?... But then I wonder if the illusions that deconstructive thought destroys are necessary to 'our society'? I guess that they were necessary to mechanised society but that different illusions (perhaps those that may underlie deconstruction?) are necessary for a society that may come later. That society (though it may not be a definable 'thing'), is what I am always seeking.

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