The Book of Isms by Peter St. Andrade defines more than 100 “isms,” from absolutism to Zoroastrianism, many of them long forgotten. By virtue of their suffix, isms become principles by which people live. Some isms, patriotism or feminism, for example, can evoke a sense of self-worth.
Some illustrate personality types: pessimism, optimism, perfectionism. There are isms named after people whose ideas become so widespread that they become doctrines, like Confucianism, Darwinism and Marxism. Others pit individuals directly against each other: racism, sexism and ageism. Then there are the isms that move from the personal to the political, such as communism, capitalism, socialism, imperialism, fascism, militarism, nationalism, totalitarianism, fundamentalism... These isms are the most powerful because they cause masses of people to move against masses of “other” people. They are based on fear that another group of people will become more powerful than ‘my’ group. These are the isms people are willing to fight and die for.
The word fascism is charged. It is galvanizing, in fact. In the political arena, the word fascism is thrown around like rice at a weddings. It has become a standard in the toolbox of punditry, to elicit images of feared leaders like Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler in the minds of listeners, to move them toward the ballot box in one direction or the other. Capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, totalitarianism are all buzzwords because they were the big isms of the 20th century that are dredged up like ghosts of the past to haunt us.
Isn’t it time, perhaps, for a new ism about what kind of leaders we have or even desire today? I like conscious capitalism. It has a nice ring to it. So does compassionate conservatism. These are oldies but goodies. What new ism can we inject into our vernacular that might serve as a centripetal, rather than centrifugal, force in our culture? Maybe strategic socialism or moral militarism. (I’m not sure if that’s possible, but I’m thinking outside the box here.) Freedomloving fascism doesn’t really work, but you get the picture. How about ubiquitous universalism, where the belief that we are all connected becomes widespread, and we begin to see ourselves in others, even our perceived enemies. If we are all one, there are no “others”. If we can’t rise above the isms, we might as well create one that unites us rather than divides us.
“Imagine all the people living life in peace… You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” (John Lennon, 1971).