“-ism’s in my opinion are not good.”

“A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.” So said the sage Ferris Bueller way back in 1986. I was a sophomore in high school in the Chicago area when this movie came out, so naturally I was highly influenced by it. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the movie (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), stop what you are doing immediately and go watch it.


St. Ferris…a prelude to the Dude.

Then, a couple of years later the movie Pump Up the Volume was released. I was living in Northern Maine at the time and this one resonated with me as well… “You see, there’s nothing to do anymore. Everything decent’s been done. All the great themes have been used up. Turned into theme parks.” Again, if you are not familiar, stop what you are doing… well you know the drill.

During an amusing interaction on the interwebs a few days ago, I commented to a friend of mine that I was proclaiming myself a Surrealist Dudeist. Now that was almost wholly tongue in cheek, but I went on to say that I would likely write a new blog post about it. So I looked up surrealism… another –ism. Turns out the sound of the word is more appealing to me than the meaning. Dudeism is a little different; this particular –ism resonates a bit more with me, but it is still an –ism and as Ferris has taught us, these are not good.

So then there is all this business about a new pope; “We have a new pope.” is a statement I heard more than once yesterday. “We?” We who? I don’t have a pope. What would I want one of those for? Not even sure what one does with one. Sooooo, of course this all has got me thinking. Thinking about formality and structure and, well –isms.

If one were to look up “ism” on the interwebs, one might find this, “In Late Latin, the -ismus suffix became the ordinary ending for names of religions and ecclesiastical or philosophical systems or schools of thought…”, followed not far behind by this, “The narrowed sense of forming terms for ideologies based on the belief of superiority…” ultimately it is a suffix, one that “forms abstract nouns of action, state, condition, doctrine”… by the way all this and more can be found here: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-ism

To quote Ferris again, “I quote John Lennon ‘I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.’ A good point there.” And so I ask myself, “Do I believe in me?” followed almost immediately by, “What the HELL does that mean?” It all makes me feel slightly schizophrenic… and subsequently reminds me of another movie quote, “How am I not myself?”

What I am beginning to realize is that, where some people will look to –isms, of one sort or another for guidance – philosophical edicts, bible verses, etc. – I tend to pull my guidance from thoughts about (and perhaps ideals formed by or at least based on) movies… does that make me a cinemist? Good grief…

Extra points if you got that last “quote”…


5 thoughts on ““-ism’s in my opinion are not good.”

  1. (a) The Peanuts/Charlie Brown

    (b) This is why I’ve always favored philosophical self-identifications ending in -ic (e.g., “stoic,” “skeptic”). True, their related abstract nouns are still -isms, but at least I could call myself a stoic rather than a stoicist, or a skeptic rather than a skepticist. If you don’t think about it, it makes sense.

    (c) I never really favored schools of thought for that reason. Wouldn’t that be crazy, to make “important life decisions” based on syntactic sleights of hand? Would be fun for a little while, but the amusement would probably prove superficial in short order. Really though, my belief system has grown up a lot since my green years as a philosophy major. The big change is that, while I am still a fierce skeptic in many respects, I am also a pragmatist (gasp! a pragmatic?) who is willing to entertain beliefs, even if provisional. Once upon a time, I really did appreciate the hardcore skeptic’s doubt that anything is knowably true (“epistemological nihilism”; there is nothing we can know, except maybe that there is nothing that we can know). And I still appreciate the stoic’s or the tao-of-poohist’s openness to just letting the universe be the way that it already is without trying to impose a half-baked worldview on it. I think that’s what I like about surrealism too, that emphasis on the shocking, the jarring, the things that make you suddenly really conscious of the fact that the pristine, crystaline beauty of your current beliefs is provisional and highly fallible. Sure, surrealism has you envisioning some unlikely scenarios that you automatically know are just absurd, but sometimes you stumble upon something that makes you realize … “maybe it could be this way rather than that other way, and I’ve had it wrong this whole time.” Surrealism, in my estimation, is just another form of skepticism with a flare for the theatrical, and I can appreciate that; it’s nice to interweave the stoic’s or taoist’s calm demeanor with a thread of cage-rattling, both to the same ends. But lately, I’ve also come to like the feeling of actually allowing myself to believe a few things about the world, even conceding that a lot of it is probably wrong or not-quite-right. Obviously, the world is going to be the way it’s going to be, but maybe I do have a hand in creating the order I want it to exhibit. And then, there are the unintended consequences …

  2. […] have written here before about how much of my personal ethos (and perhaps I am not using that word correctly here but it […]

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