The illusion of goodness


From the PD James novel, A Certain Justice:

 Glancing back as they turned together into the studio, Dalgliesh felt the weight of a fleeting melancholy tinged with pity. That tranquil studio, the pots so unthreatening in design and execution, the small attempt at self-sufficiency represented by the garden and the henhouse: didn’t they symbolize an escape, a peace as illusory as the dignified order of the eighteenth-century courts of the Temple, as illusory as all human seeking after the good, the harmonious life?

It’s that last line – “as illusory as all human seeking after the good, the harmonious life” – that got me. In context, James seems to be critiquing a kind of safe, middle-upper class withdrawal that seeks comfort and safety at the expense of other responsibilities.

But that line about the illusory nature of human seeking after a good, harmonious life – it seems to me poignant and precise. Not, ultimately, because good and harmony are illusory, but as a description of a result of materialism. Without a theological account, I can’t imagine how you could see goodness and harmony as anything but a fragile, ultimately passing mirage.

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