Sunday, January 14, 2007

Down with conventional wisdom!

There is a good New Year's list by Fred Halliday in the current Open Democracy, "A 2007 warning: the world's twelve worst ideas".

As he says, "The world is full of conformism masquerading as profundity". And he goes on to expose the ideas that irritate him the most. It is a game we can all play and I fully approve of his choice of this,

"We have no need for history

In recent decades, large areas of intellectual and academic life - political thought and analysis, economics, philosophy - have jettisoned a concern with history. Yet it remains true that those who ignore history repeat it … "


"Religion should again be allowed, when not encouraged, to play a role in political and social life

the claim about the benefits of religion is one of the great, and all too little challenged, impostures of our time. For centuries, those aspiring to freedom and democracy, be it in Europe or the middle east, fought to push back the influence of religion on public life. Secularism cannot guarantee freedom, but, against the claims of tradition and superstition, and the uses to which religion is put in modern political life, from California to Kuwait, it is an essential bulwark."

This too is one of my bugbears from enthusiasts of modernity (to which I would add many others such as "weightless economies", "knowledge societies", "portfolio careers", & etc.)

"The world is speeding up

This, a favourite trope of globalisation theorists, confuses acceleration in some areas, such as the transmission of knowledge, with the fact that large areas of human life continue to demand the same time as before: to conceive and bear a child, to learn a language, to grow up, to digest a meal, to enjoy a joke, to read a poem. It takes the same time to fly from London to New York as it did forty years ago, ditto to boil an egg or publish a book. Some activities – such as or driving around major western cities, getting through an airport, or dying - may take much longer."

Finally, though I tend to be anti-utopian in my outlook in the sense of opposing grand ideological plans, I still like this,

"In the modern world, we do not need utopias

Dreaming, the aspiration to a better world and the imagination thereof, is a necessary part of the human condition."

It is reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's famous quote from "The Soul of Man Under Socialism"

"A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisations of Utopias."

Read all twelve here

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