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Governor General's Award Winner Tenth Anniverary Edition with a new preface Our society John Ralston Saul argues in his 1995 CBC Massey Lectures is only superficially based on the individual and democracy Increasingly it is conformist and corporatist a society in which legitima 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 civilizationThe 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 civilizationYet 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 returnEven 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

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The Unconscious Civilization

Ty Reconnecting language to reality clarifying what we mean by individualism and democracy making these realities central to the citizen's life identifying ideologies in order to control them these are among the first elements of euilibrium which Saul proposes in these lectures 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 euivalent 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 uite miffed that another work of his Theory of Moral Sentiment is casually being ignored by the self interest crowd

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Cy lies with specialist or interest groups and decisions are made through constant negotiations between these groupsThe paradox of our situation is that knowledge has not made us conscious Instead we have sought refuge in a world of illusion where language is cut off from reali 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 uestioning everything as Socrates did and the philosophical perspectives behind these tendenciesIn 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 uestions 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 ideologyThere 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 uniue 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 ineuality doesn t lead the author to suspect simple greed is the primary issueIn 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 philosophyGenerally 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 wealthyOn 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 CEOsIn 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


10 thoughts on “The Unconscious Civilization

  1. says:

    Saul is a beautifully simply writer His thesis is that we live in a civilization that is fundamentally deluded about the type of society we actually are We believe we live in a time of remarkable peace but really there have never been so many wars We think we are free and that we live in a democracy but people have never felt so alienated from 'power' This book is a call to arms over how to make our society aligned to the myths of our socie

  2. says:

    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 critiue of modern society the author J R Saul raises the humanist

  3. says:

    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 civilizationThe November 1929 issue of McCall's Magazine celebrated this victory supposed period

  4. says:

    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 prob

  5. says:

    Sort of a follow up to Voltaire's Bastards which simply asked a lot of uestions This book begins to offer something in the way of an a

  6. says:

    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 meit is still the most concise argument available that demonstrates the need for citizenship and the dangers of narcissistic individualismit should be in highschool curriculums everywhere

  7. says:

    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 i

  8. says:

    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 sta

  9. says:

    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

  10. says:

    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 ins

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Tessa Young is an 18 year old college student with a simple life, excellent grades, and a sweet boyfriend She always has things planned out ahead of time, until she meets a rude boy named Harry, with too many tattoos and piercings who shatters her plans.