Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beyond the Financial Crisis: Intellectual Package Holidays for the Mind

I will get back on the 'deviancy' trail shortly. Meanwhile, I want to briefly reflect on something that has been bothering me for a few months now: the low quality of public thinking about the current financial crisis. This crisis does not only involve the degradation of monetary wealth and the social misery caused by this. It is also a palpable manifestation of our intellectual bankruptcy. And, not just in the obvious sense that much of recent finance theory and the free-and-efficient markets ideology underlying it now seems as defunct as old-school, soviet-style marxism. Thinkers of all persuasions seem to have been caught out.

Where are the useful and pertinent commentaries by members of the intellectual avant garde, those who look down on the rest of us from the progressive heights? Deconstructionists and their ever more colourful offspring? They haven't left the starting gate yet. Ultra Radical Feminists? I've heard some predictable complaints that the crisis is an entirely male concoction, but nothing more insightful or constructive. As for political critique, those on the right are laughably sticking to their outworn dogmas and leftists seem a bit hysterical. Some have withdrawn into their Stalinist shells and others are hand wringing at the very thought that the business community has instigated a crisis that defies explanation in terms of their familiar jargon.

The management gurus, and other charlatans residing at somewhat lower altitudes of thought, are also keeping their heads down. Perhaps they sense that most of their drivel is now even easier to recognise as drivel. Though no doubt Tom Peters is somewhere right now shouting "This is all very exciting!" (only in CAPITALS). But, I don't think there will be a rush on the resulting book of rants.

The same goes for New Age prophets. You read The Secret or The Six Steps Towards Complete Self Love, but you still lost your house and your job. Time to wise up, I guess?

We can be thankful for these latter small mercies. But nevertheless, the paucity of fresh ideas on how to deal with what is happening and also move society forward amidst the exceedingly choppy economic waves is pretty depressing to behold. The Financial Times has just announced a series of articles by supposedly big hitters on 'The Future of Capitalism'. But, even the very use of the word "Capitalism" suggests we shouldn't get too excited.

Next time I will explain more details of my special free offer of Intellectual Package Holidays. Meanwhile, if you come across anything on the crisis that goes against the pessimistic grain of this post, please let me know. Perhaps we can find, and then nurture, some interesting ideas that will flower in the desert we seem to have been left with.