Monthly Archives: March 2015

A Prism on Isms

Holy smoke! Was my most recent post on this thing really over five weeks ago? My most abject apologies to my legion of followers. Not that I have any reason to believe you will have missed my opinions, however. I think most lives tick along very nicely without those. Just ask Leslie. Hers most certainly would, but alas, poor girl, she has to put up with them. But you, by the merest flick of the mouse or sweep of the finger, can dismiss me instantly.

I have been pondering on “isms”, stimulated by our prime minister’s insistence on the evils of “militant jihadism”. He uses the phrase in the same style, and for much the same purpose, as a previous generation of politicians used “communism”. The style is propaganda; the purpose is to fabricate and convince us to fear an enemy without, in order to distract us from the enemy within, which is him, his brand of politics, and the interests he is determined to serve.

His efforts are in part successful with me: he strikes fear in my heart, all right, but not for “militant jihadism,” whatever it may be. I would be the first to admit that my knowledge of the history is patchy, but it occurs to me that the current phenomenon in Iraq and Syria is nothing new, seeming quite similar to the efforts of the Mahdi in the Sudan and Mohammed Abdulla Hassan in Somalia not a large number of decades ago. It seems possible to me that all these movements were fed, and perhaps caused, by the clumsy machinations of western imperial powers pursing their own selfish interests in lands that didn’t belong to them. A little knowledge of and respect for the well-grounded fears and resentments of those people might help to put ours to rest.

As for barbarism, I deplore the beheading of innocent people as any humane person must, but I am not sure it is more barbaric than, for example, bombing homes from the air. Killing is killing, no matter how it’s done.

But that’s not what I am writing about today. Isms. I am wondering about the value and possibility of a generally accepted hierarchy of isms, that would help us keep our heads clear and our compass lenses unfogged amidst the multifarious forces that batter us. I think that I would put “Humanism” at the top, at least by the second definition in my dictionary (the Canadian Oxford): “a belief or outlook emphasizing common human needs, seeking solely rational ways of solving human problems, and being concerned with humanity as responsible and progressive intellectual beings”, to which I would add something about sympathy and understanding as foundational attitudes. Obviously the idea is too big for few-word definitions.

I think that numbers of my friends would put “Naturism” up there too, by which I do not mean nudism, but rather the belief that Nature should be viewed like Humanity, as something whose well-being should be pursued as a highest good, for its own sake and not merely for its utility. I am not sure that I can go whole hog on that one, but the idea is attractive. If we say that we should not destroy Nature lest we destroy ourselves, which is no doubt true, then we are making Nature subordinate to Humanity. If we cultivate Nature for our good, then we are doing the same thing. On the whole I think that a properly conceived Humanism will allow us to care properly for Nature too, and that if we keep things in that order we’ll be less confused.

The same goes for Individualism, Commonism, Producerism, Consumerism to mention others I would put high up the list. Maybe others, but I can’t think of them today. I hope that not too many others turn up in the top echelon, because it’s confusing enough already. Even as it is, I would have to put Balancism up there too, à la Stephen Leacock and Henry Mintzberg (cf., both of McGill University.

Of one thing I am sure: Militarism, Powerism and Exploitism show up on an entirely different list.

I think that for a time in the post-WWII period Canadian Liberalism, Conservatism (Progressive Conservatism it was then), and Social Democratism all were making quite reasonable stabs at Balancism, with some differences of emphasis of course. These are allowed, Balance in a complex world being what it must be.

I think the Conservatives have lost that voice and have taken on another that is not balanced at all. I read a lot from the Progressive side of the political debate, which is where I think the NDP would like to be if they dared to go there. I see too much simple anti-Conservatism there, which I find agreeable and entertaining, but not constructive, and not Balanced. I think the Liberals may be, or were, trying to achieve Balance by taking all the pans off the scale. They are re-building; we need to see their full platform before we can reasonably form a judgement. I believe that traditional Liberalism was quite Balanced, within reasonable tolerances, which is why it did so well electorally for so many  years.

I find Elizabeth May the most Balanced politician in the country right now, at least in her writings if not her sound bites, which lean towards anti-Conservative stridency. I wish the Green Party as a whole, federally and provincially, were more like her.

Balance is a practical goal, achieved through the day-to-day slog of research and practical politics.

Humanism at the top, supported by carefully cultivated Naturism, Individualism, Commonism, Producerism and Consumerism, all in Balance. That’s where I stand. I think a lot of people stand there too, or would like to stand there if they could find the words to say where it is. If we had a real Balance Party with the rhetorical skill to bring itself to life, then I think it would win at a walk.

But of course, as we all see every day, there’s a lot more money in Powerism, Corporatism, Militarism, Exploitism and Fearism. Money talks. Violence talks.

Chatter talks too. Oh, how it talks! On and on and on and on! Rampant Cacophonism! Rampant Sensationalism! There’s no Balance to be found in that.

Ideas and Ideals can talk too, but only through human voices, people with the right words and the right flair. Where can we find them? How can we support and encourage them? How can we prevent them from being dragged into the world where Money and Violence talk, where Cacophony rules? That, as I see it, is the substance of the practical political problem for us, the people.