BE WARY OF THE NARCISSISTIC CONSUMER OF IDEAS – Being human means living in our bodies, for our own perspectives and those of others, with our minds, and in proximity to others. No people or peoples can live autonomously in their private habitats. For better or worse, the world is now interdependent and interconnected. Exploring the frontier in science and human sciences means that we should feature ideas that challenge our definition of human nature — not just what is normal in politics, society, and the global market and/or the global commons — and defy what used to be called the cosmos.
Put positively, these ideas can create a vortex — or a whirlwind of ideas that can be liberating. These ideas can also be threatening, going so far as to become transuniversal threats. As either productive or destructive or both the implementation of ideas free of the political thinker’s choice or intent create a challenge for the study of idea impact.
Instead trying to reach the narcissistic reader, who reads as a means of shoring up their own identity, idea impact and the new book series Heretical Thought I am editing for Oxford University Press challenges political thinkers, and those who subscribe earnestly to their thoughts, to wake up the narcissistic consumer of ideas in politics, global markets and/or commons, society, social media, science, human sciences, and social science.
The goal is to give this consumer the perspective of others by making it up close and personal, not abstracted away or intended to affect the mind and bodies of “others” in foreign nations.
Given the complexity of globalism, globalization, or the global commons, people often do not know the origins of their ideas, and therefore their preferences. Without engaging in uncomfortable conversations, they consume their ideas from their own perspective. Not knowing where these ideas came from means there is a rent between ideas and preferences, or real preferences. What makes this perilous is that proprietors of the commercial uses of science and human sciences understand this dissonance and make use of it. They study it while the public tries to catch up (and will only bother catching up if the preferences turn out to be clearly disadvantageous).
Do you want to consume the idea of a genetic counselor employed by the hospital with money from a grant originally funded by the insurance industry? Is this counselor giving you the statistics for genetic birth defects for your sake, or for the sake of the insurance industry? Does the counselor know the history or lineage of her discipline? Does it even matter, if you’re not faced with any hard decisions? Information is information; or is information power? And if it is power, does this mean power for good or for bad purpose?
Chances are it is both. Chances are it is not an either/or equation. Few people object to the information they receive during genetic counseling unless they encounter a decision that puts them or their future prospects for a family in harm’s way. Hidden, partially hidden, or barely concealed interests that help shape how information is conveyed can easily influence decisions without rising to the level of fraud, let alone corruption. These intentions were all good. Yet this means that we consume others’ perspectives about information, and thus consume their ideas, their very imagination, without a real understanding of the long- or short-term fallout. The books in this series will tease the ideas out — their origins and the epistemologies supporting them, and the long- and short-term implications.
Political thinkers must rally to renew their waning influence, in light of constant attacks on the public sphere and the academy itself, and of the 21st-century preference for fast-paced progress. Only ideas can challenge the way youth across the globe surrender information that compromises their civil liberties. Only serious political thought can explore why third-generation Muslims in Rotterdam are more religious than their parents, or cousins who stayed back in the homeland. Serious political thought is required so that the disability-rights movement does not criticize politicians for giving more rights to animals than to them.
It’s also time to get serious because of how receptive the current global youth is. Occupy Wall Street reveals a hunger for change, a rejection of the status quo. Many of the post-1989 identity groups face less resistance than before. Yet this did not happen overnight, and there is no predicting how long this enlightenment will last. There was not necessarily one crisis or event that caused the new identity movements to emerge, find solidarity, and fight for their rights, and without support from political thinkers, they could fade away.