Ideas are great things. Having thoughts, opinions and analysing the world is very important. Having a set of theories or ideas based on material analysis, studying discourse or generally trying to interpret the world we live in is fantastic.
I would encourage anyone to read about philosophy, economics, politics, religion, sex (there is plenty of societal analysis rather than just hands on practical guides), class, race, gender or any other discipline or idea. People should read Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzscher, Ayn Rand, John Maynard Keynes, Michel Foucault, Emma Goldman, Vladamir Lenin, Francis Fukuyama, Rosa Luxemburg, Anthony Giddens….or whoever else.
Read, critique, question, analysis, compare and generally allow your mind to be open to new ideas. Don’t just read authors from your side of politics. Don’t just read from specialists in the area you are interested or work in. Read widely and broadly and open your mind. But whatever you do, don’t read these people like they have written some blueprint for life. Wealth of Nations is not an instruction manual on how to build society. There isn’t some pure interpretation of Das Capital that if everyone follows poverty will end. Reading and (attempting to) understand Foucault’s history of sexuality is great, but please don’t then reject all materialist analysis of economics out of hand (but don’t think everything is pure materialism either).
Reading works that have shaped human history is important. Understanding how and why these ideas shaped our world is essential. In doing so, also remember these works or ideas are placed within a time or place. Calling yourself a ‘Marxist’, ‘Keynesian’ or ‘Darwinist’ is just daft. These people were human beings who had ideas at a certain time. Here’s a thought, if the ideas you are taken by were written prior to the internet being invented, or the atom being split, then you might want to place them in their historical context. Further even if the ideas haven’t dated that much (some don’t), they still are just the idea of one human – and all humans get things wrong.
I write this because I find in politics, in academia and in many walks of life people get trapped into ism’s. Worse they put themselves into these boxes and subscribe to ideas uncritically. This is a theme I will return to in later posts, but its a trap I’ve fallen into myself. Very few people who’ve engaged in politics haven’t. Much of politics in the 21st century is still based on ideology and ideas, which were not intended to analyse the realities of the 21st century. I can hear the response now “oh yes the left do that” to be countered by “no the right are even worse”. Actually it happens across the spectrum. The spectrum itself is a construct of ideology. Dated, flawed, blinkered and narrow ideology.
We need ideas. What the humanity needs considerably more of is people who think, and think outside of the old boxes.