EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

Chapter 1: From Trieste to Texas

3. Glances at Sociology: A False Start
“There was an Indian tribe in Colorado that lived in the shelter of a mountain. A river surrounded the village and protected it from wild animals. A single ford, easy to keep a watch over, allowed one to cross the river to go hunting. Another place, also close to the river, was dedicated to the rituals to ancestors. Research has shown that the river has changed its course over several decades and that the place of devotion was exactly at the point of the ancient ford.”
This was a piece of history presented as an introduction to the sociology course in order to demonstrate the subtle link that every human activity unites myth and reality − a reality that allows survival to become, with the passage of time, a symbol. When reality changes the symbol can continue to exist independently because it contains within itself the customs and the emotions of past generations. Myths and reality nourish the two sides of the human mind, sometimes overlapping and sometimes entering into conflict with each other. And so I was introduced to the reality of myth in every human society, to its ambiguities and its contrasts and its role as a bringer of balance in behaviour.
It must also be said that I found myself in the very cradle of the ideas of Thorstein Veblen who, in The Theory of the Leisure Class, has made an in depth study of the nature of intellectuals in our society describing them as “evolved” substitutes for the wizards and “shamans” of primitive societies. We needed them for the same reason: to interpret what the common mortal struggled to understand. It takes special forms, sometimes an esoteric language, to perform this role.
This is a role that I still often find today in my colleagues (economists) and in other advis­ers in industry, finance and even in public authorities. Sometimes, they make mistakes, but their main function is to reassure. There are enough uncertainties in every human activity for their function to be taken into consideration in any kind of circumstance. In moderation, however. When intellectuals and experts of whatever alignment take themselves too seriously, they can and do cause serious or less serious trouble. It is necessary, therefore, to make use of them prudently and in moderation. In the increasingly complex modern world, they are actually very rarely able to anticipate important events. In fact the more important an event is, whether economic or otherwise, the more unpredictable it becomes.
Nevertheless, however defective an instrument is and even when the perfect one does not exist, it has to be adapted to. We must, therefore, learn to calculate with the help of intellectual intermediaries of every kind. This does not mean, however, avoiding our ultimate responsibility for everything that concerns and depends on us. How often at the Battelle Memorial Institute did I later discover how promoters or clients would sometimes nurse a secret hope of avoiding a decision, thereby entrusting it with others!
This then was my humour-filled “veblenian” introduction to sociology and almost to psychoanalysis in order to better observe or discover myths, reality and the judgements of experts in the subtle game that they suggest little by little.
Carried along by the wave of this enthusiasm, back in Europe I held an introductory sociology course in a school for social workers in Trieste in 1967. I discovered that the “teacher” can gain even more from a course than the “learners”. One has to get one’s ideas clear and put them in order so as to be able to explain them in an intelligible manner. At the beginning one has to learn everything. So, I thank my students.
My last adventure in this field was my participation in the World Congress of Sociology in 1959 at Stresa. There were hundreds of “experts”. The delegation that came from Moscow was numerous and the Marxist sociologists always moved in serried ranks. The same applied to a group of Jesuits from whom I heard the following reflection: “Look at those poor Communists, they’re just like us but they don’t even have the hope of going to Paradise.” I also spent a lot of time conversing with a defrocked priest who was riddled with moral problems.
The Cold War formed the backdrop to this Congress where the class war was discussed a great deal. I prepared to intervene in order to suggest that it should be studied essentially as a struggle between the governing classes because as such it did not concern only a Marxist or anti-Marxist vision of society. Marx after all had married an aristocrat and was a friend of Engels who was from a “good family”.
Just think of all the Bin Ladens of the earth who are not always so fanatical fortunately. After all, many of the “revolutionaries” of May ’68 went on to occupy prominent positions, and thanks to the events of that period, the revolutionaries subsequently made use of them to build their careers in the most traditional manner.
I raised my hand, but the chairman of that session, seeing such a young man, did not pass the floor to me and I abandoned sociology forever.


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