Posted by: Dirk | May 21, 2013

“No obligation to worry about the 99%”

The above quote is from John Ralston Saul’s 1995 book entitled The Unconscious Civilization. Here is the full sentence from page 81, paperback edition by Anansi, in the context of a discussion of Hume:

After all, if man is governed by interest, then those who succeed have no obligation to worry about the 99% living at various levels below them.

I picked up the book on Sunday at a used book store in Bloomsbury while waiting for a colleague to comb through the philosophy section. Since the variety of books available there was limited to philosophy and psychology I ended up reading into the book. Saul is not an academic, but his discussion of contemporaneous problems stands very well with hindsight. The text on the back reads:

Our society, John Ralston Saul argues in the 1995 Massey Lectures, is only superficially based on the individual and democracy. Increasingly it is conformist and corporatist, a society in which legitimacy lies with specialist or interest groups and decisions are made through constant negotiations between these groups. The 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 reality. 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 equilibrium which Saul proposes in these lectures.

So, having had technocrat governments and troikas and other experts as rulers over nations of Europe for years now without any improvement of the situation, it seems like his text might be relevant. It reminded me that sometimes it is a good idea to listen to non-academics and hear their arguments, especially if they are not easily expressed in mathematics. The book is a discussion of philosophy and economics and makes a very nice read. And, of course, it mentions the 99% of Occupy Wall Street. I haven’t seen this connection made by anyone else and maybe there are many more books which mention the 99%, but it seems to me that the context of the quote is quite similar to the context of the way the 99% were introduced into public discourse by Occupy Wall Street.


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