Prospect Magazine, Durkheim, and the myth of useful Sociology
Two days ago I bought for the first time Prospect Magazine, self-styled "Politics/Essay/Argument – Britain's Intelligent Conversation"
I confess I must give it a second or even a third try before subscribing as the quality of some articles is very good, but other entries made my jaws drop so much they started sweeping Cannon Street Station's floor
Example of the latter is Paul Broks inanely describing his dreams of a tsunami the night before it happened, or precious printable space mysteriously reserved for poet-writer-critic Al Alvarez to tell us about his fear of spiders (is anybody trying to make reality TV look of a similar intellectual stature as Plato?)
I won't even waste my time to describe the vapourous contents of the "Is God to blame" debate (apologies to the term "debate")
And let's forget those disturbing cartoons (disturbing in the sense that it is disturbing to think anybody would laugh at any of them)
Example of what could really be interesting about Prospect is its calendar of UK events and lectures
Another is the (free online) essay on Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist of almost a 100 years ago whose ideas ("meritocracy meets social justice") are so much behind the modern concept of Social Democracy, including much of what we know as "New Labour"
I particularly agree with Durkheim's finding that an individual is very much the product of his or her society. I have lost count of the number of times I thought I was doing something out of my own personal free will, only to find out I was just following some kind of modern fashion What I don't agree on is the promotion of social cohesion by the reinvention of the Guilds; and in general, the whole concept of social engineering for a good cause For the former, think of Italian Fascism. For the latter, look at Marxism-Leninism.I really can't see much difference between heavy-handed state-santioned interventions to define what's socially acceptable and some clumsy environmental interventions that just made everything worse
Perhaps we simply don't know enough about society to be able to influence it positively.
A useful, practical Sociology, to paraphrase the Mahatma, would be a very good idea…
Oh, if only we had one…