I know a lot of things.
Not that I’m trying to be immodest. I mean, I am immodest: I spend most of my Facebook hours stalking myself and am the star of most of my favourite conversations. But in this case, I’m really not being self-indulgent. After two and a half years of university education and campus media, not to mention a lifetime of reading the news, I know a ton of facts.
I know, for instance, about the United States. I know its current events – how it’s an oppressive liberator with a socialist conservative imperialist unpatriotic president. And I know its history – all about how it gallantly defeated the evils of communism through its faith in the world-raping travesty of capitalism.
And if you think that’s impressive, just wait – that’s not all I know.
I know for a fact that colonialism, capitalism, socialism, liberalism, neo-liberalism, fascism, Marxism, and all their theoretical brethren are really, really bad things. I think it would be easier to pin down why they’re so awful if their definitions didn’t change all the time, but one of the other things I know is that it’s more important to understand whether things are good or bad than to know what they actually are. Right?
Well, maybe the only thing I really know is that I don’t know much.
But I do think a lot.
I think that Ferris Bueller was probably the best political theorist of our time, when he suggested that he didn’t “condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.” Plus, his twist and shout scene is pretty much the best in movie history except for the food fight in Hook: “you’re doing it Peter; you’re using your imagination.”
Maybe we can take a lesson from Ferris and Peter, and start using our imaginations to look a bit deeper, to consider more than the theoretical framework that makes for a fashionable explanation of the world’s troubles. People were beating each other over the head, stealing each other’s things, and generally exploiting each other long before they invented formal structures to help them do it. And in terms of economic determinism, maybe when the world experiences an unregulated capitalist society, or an unadulterated communist one, we’ll actually know what the two systems are like. Until then, invoking either as the cause or panacea of global suffering just seems a little too easy.
It seems that a more poignant explanation for the world’s ills is a simple case of people not being very nice to each other. And in my experience, a lot of people purportedly trying to fix those problems aren’t very nice to each other either. My interactions with self-proclaimed activists on campus, with notable exceptions, have often involved name-calling, angry polemics, negativity, and very little time spent actually helping people. And call me naϊve, but it feels like trying to change the world by being mean about things is just going to create a new world in which people are, well, still mean.
So we can go ahead, and imagine a world with no religion, countries, or anything different between us, and we can devote a lot of time to being against things and tearing them down. Or maybe, as we try to make the world a better place, we can start with people in our own community; with a smile and some laughter and a ‘Hey, how are you?’ Maybe that won’t make all those nasty ‘isms’ go away, but it’s probably worth a try. I mean, hey – what’s the worst that could happen?