Monday, February 24, 2020 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

David Riesman (1909 – 2002)

Sociologist, attorney, and educator.
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David Riesman
The Autonomous. In the case of someone like Bertrand Russell or Toscanini, one feels an essential aliveness of spirit that reflexively keeps the body alive too, in the face of the inevitable physiological catabolisms. … Such men are not necessarily “balanced” or “well-adjusted” people: they may … get along well with very few people, or prefer the “company” of dead people. … One can see in such cases a passionate interest or preoccupation which has remained alive since childhood—though perhaps newly justified or rediscovered in middle life. … Such individuals are fairly immune to cultural changes, or to cultural definitions of their own physical changes: they carry their preservative, their “spirits,” within. … As long as the body does not actively prevent, these men are immortal because of their ability to renew themselves.
Riesman quotes
The premonition of death may for many be a stimulus to novelty of experience: the imminence of death serves to sweep away the inessential preoccupations for those who do not flee from the thought of death into triviality.
We all know the type of American executive or professional man who does not allow himself to age, but by what appears to be almost sheer will keeps himself “well-preserved,” as if in creosote. … The will which burns within him, while often admirable, cannot be said to be truly “his”: it is compulsive; he has no control over it, but it controls him. He appears to exist in a psychological deep-freeze; new experience cannot get at him, but rather he fulfills himself by carrying out ever-renewed tasks which are given by his environment: he is borne along on the tide of cultural agendas. So long as these agendas remain, he is safe; he does not acquire wisdom, as the old of some cultures are said to do, but he does not lose skill—or if he does, is protected by his power from the consequences, perhaps the awareness, of loss of skill. In such a man, responsibility may substitute for maturity. Indeed, it could be argued that the protection furnished such people in the united States is particularly strong since their “youthfulness” remains a social and economic prestige-point and wisdom might actually, if it brought awareness of death and which the culture regarded as pessimism, be a count against them. … They prefigure … the cultural cosmetic that makes Americans appears youthful to other peoples. And, since they are well-fed, well-groomed, and vitamin-dosed, there may be an actual delay-in-transit of the usual physiological declines to partly compensate for lack of psychological growth. Their outward appearance of aliveness may mask inner sterility.

Riesman David quotes
If we observe the aging of individuals, in the period after middle life, it seems to me that we can distinguish three ideal-typical outcomes. Some individuals bear within themselves some psychological sources of self-renewal; aging brings for them accretions of wisdom, with no loss of spontaneity and ability to enjoy life, and they are relatively independent of the culture’s strictures and penalties imposed on the aged. Other individuals, possibly the majority, bear within them no such resources but are the beneficiaries of a cultural preservative (derived from work, power, position, etc.) which sustains them although only so long as the cultural conditions remain stable and protective. A third group, protected neither from within nor from without, simply decay. In terms more fully delineated elsewhere, we may have autonomous, adjusted, and anomic reactions to aging.
Riesman David
Those who are excluded from meaningful work are, by an large, excluded from meaningful play.
David Riesman quotes
Social Science … led us to the fallacy that, since all men have their being in culture and as a result of culture, they owe a debt to that culture which even a lifetime of altruism could not repay.
David Riesman
A spurious democracy has influenced both our research methods (I am sometimes tempted to define “validity” as part of the context of an experiment demanding so little in the way of esoteric gift that any number can play at it, provided they have taken a certain number of courses) and our research subjects (it would be deemed snobbish to investigate only the best people).
Riesman David quotes
The ethical regime [of the Jews] was quite definitely Ptolemaic, revolving around the small group of Jews, not the larger Gentile group—and, accordingly, they learned to remain unimpressed by Gentile temporal power. Being unimpressed did not mean being unafraid—material power might beat or starve one to death; it did mean refusing to surrender moral hegemony to the majority merely because it had power.
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