Friday 4 September 2009

Any Old Isms? Any Old Isms? Any Any Any Old Ism's?

In the last few centuries, how many is debateable, humanity has collected a number of ‘Isms to direct the mind, explain our behaviour, and give us comfort in times of trial. To these might be added “Ics”, or “Ians”, a number of “Ologies” of one sort or another. Then there are “Mania’s”. These are not exclusive and are subject to interpretation. My Ism is your Ology, your Ology is their Mania, and their Mania is my Ism. I hope this is quite clear. For this comment I will stick to Isms, because I have had a lot of them in my time, some enforced, others as fashion, and now and again because one had a passing attraction, like a steam hauled train going through when you are waiting for the dreary modern rattletrap for which you have a ticket.

Some of the most fervent and anxious opinions out there in the media and on the net are all to do with Isms. All I need to do is mention one in particular and express a slight reservation, and then there will be a thunder of hooves in the distance, or worse a lot of abusive and threatening mails in the inbox getting in the way of my Fantasy Football operations.

The essential trouble with an Ism that has been around a long time is that when it is further from its roots, the human condition changes, and as other radical changes occur not only does it morph into something quite different, but these stresses in turn spawn Schisms, so an Ism has many sub-Isms. This is getting complicated, if you do not believe me study ecclesiastical history. It is said that at one time in Yorkshire the proliferation of dissenting chapels was such that in some places almost every family ran their own chapel. It exists elsewhere, but probably I have already upset too many people.

That is just religion. In economics and commerce it becomes a lot more serious and emotional. Even the flagellants of old cannot match for fervour the proponents of this Ism or that Ism relating to the ordinary business of life and money. Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Corporatism, Fascism (nowadays sometimes disguised as Nationalism) all these and more are on offer for those who seek some kind of explanation for what the hell is going on.

At present we have a government that has come to believe on the basis of whatever Ism they employ; this is a matter of confusion and disagreement; that moving digital money about rapidly by computer is the key to the future and wealth and happiness. At least for the few who are party to it, and can draw down the benefits. Some call this Capitalism, and if so, it has certainly morphed, it is very different from the pre Limited Liability form, and the early 20th Century industrial age types. One school suggests that the word now relates to systems that try to maximise the rents on what they own, and this entails the exploitation of whatever and whoever they can get their hands on. It might explain the relapse into different forms of bondage that much of present humanity endures.

If so then not only do self styled Capitalists have very different ideas of what their Ism actually is and does, but the notion becomes incomprehensible to everyone else. So as an Ism it is now redundant, and we need to dream up a whole new set of words or phrases to try to explain matters. Socialism and Communism have had that problem. In our modern world this is not easy.

Once upon a time if someone had done enough swotting, written big books that got circulated, and attracted enough interest and agreement, you could have a new Ism established in a generation or two. These days, you knock out something from a quick search of a few Wikipedia entries and the odd bit or two from Google Scholar in the morning, post it in the afternoon, then after adverse reactions and threats amend it in the evening, but by the next morning it is dead in the water and you have to start all over again.

This is not good news for philosophers or theologians, still less for economists or social scientists. It does not affect politics, but those practitioners have always had a flexible way of dealing with things. At the dawn of the 21st Century; that is by the calculations of some Isms; there are those with different dating patterns; perhaps it is time for humanity to clear out the intellectual lofts, sheds, and cupboards of what passes for all the whole world of theory.

If none of the old Isms are any use they represent obstacles to any assessment of the human condition now and in the foreseeable future, whether rational, emotional, spiritual, or even cynical. We have only what we know, and that isn’t much, what we can judge relating to the degree of perception as to what is going on around us, what our instincts may tell us, and what any notions of morality may guide us.

So why not dump the lot? Perhaps a sonic boom from a passing near earth object, or a blast of cosmic rays from some distant galactic catastrophe, or perhaps simply the total crash of our electrical supply systems from a bigger than usual solar flare might do the job for us.

Oh dear, I have just contracted a new Ism. It is called Fatalism. Does anyone share my ideas? Imagine the T Shirts, “Fatalism Is The Future” or “Fatalism Rules OK”. If you can’t beat them, join them.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the stories we tell ourselves, tell others are not as dangerous as the stories the culture tells us. Trouble is the Western story about the bright and bountiful technological future is failing and we have nothing coming down The Road to replace it.