Ideological Musings

by Elias Blum

Four “-isms” to be challenged:

(i) Economism – the tendency to view events through the prism of economics, skewing society and politics away from other goals and towards a form of quantitative (but not qualitative) growth;

(ii) Consumerism – the belief that fulfilment and happiness comes through the excessive acquisition and ownership of material goods;

(iii) Individualism – the idea that the individual, individual rights and fulfilment are the most central dimension of life;

(iv) Scientism – the belief that the kind of science that helps explain the physical world is the only legitimate approach – and applicable to all spheres.

Together, these create conditions in which many feel a lack of voice, of purpose, of security, of fulfillment, and of well-being; they lead to atomised, competitive societies, to faceless technocratic government, and to rapacious, wasteful, destructive economics. We fill the void with annihilation (drugs, alcohol, fundamentalist religion), distraction (shopping, celebrities) or thrill-seeking.  Somewhere we are losing our humanity, and forgetting the classical/renaissance humane ideal of the integrated ethical and social life.

I am convinced that the only way out of this impasse is to be found in policies, structures and values which:

(i) Replace economism and consumerism with concern for overall quality of life – for our health, well-being, family and relationships.  (Besides, beyond a certain point “more stuff” doesn’t make you any better off, and limitless economic growth cannot be pursued indefinitely on a finite planet.)

(ii) Replace individualism with solidarity, social justice and subsidiarity (i.e. recognising that we are whole people, interconnected and interdependent people, and not mere rational-egoist utility maximisers”. (The constitutional guarantee of civil and personal liberties is still paramount, of course; I’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bath-water here, only that we recognise there are also social claims and ethical frameworks which should rightly shape, mould and direct individual actions, particularly economic actions.)

(iii) Replace scientism with a holistic humanism (i.e. recognises the role of science in understanding and explaining the physical world, but without trying to over-extend the scientific method into the humanities).