Monday, 22 June 2015

How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World

Francis Wheen How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World (2004)
Here's another existing at something of a tangent to my usual, but it's one of those books which could make for a slightly better world if everyone were to read it and take at least some of what is said on board. I suppose How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World might be regarded as a companion piece to Carl Sagan's excellent The Demon-Haunted World in so much as it's an extended essay on why believing any old bollocks on the grounds of it being either comforting or else relayed to you by a smiling man in a nice suit is maybe not such a great idea. I'd say it might also be regarded as a companion piece to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, but although I remember enjoying that one up to a point, I've subsequently found it difficult to distinguish between my memories of the book and the disappointing evolution of Dawkins into a sort of atheist Richard Littlejohn.

Anyway, Wheen's focus is on culture, politics, society, economics and so on, roughly applying Sagan's genial sense of clarity to the world around us and examining the consequences of twatty thinking. Homeopathy, structuralism, and certain new age conceits all come in for a hugely entertaining kicking, and all building towards a thorough examination of why those who don't actually understand society or how the universe operates - looking at you and Cherie marinating in your Mexican shit bath, Tony Bliar - shouldn't be left in charge of any part of it because they invariably fuck it up for the rest of us; as they have done; as can be discerned by simply looking out of a window. Happily, Wheen seems to accept that as a planet we have to work with what we have right here and now, and that no amount of evangelical ranting, raving, or name calling is going to sterilise thousands of years of ingrained culture; as Dawkins seems to believe each time he demands we cut out all the religion and start being more sensible like what he is, apparently never really quite understanding why some might consider him poorly informed in certain respects.

I've never really understood economics or the mechanism of capitalism and debt, at least not beyond a fairly vague and left-leaning hunch of it all being a massive planet-sized nest-feathering exercise, but Wheen explains it all very well, and in terms that I found not only comprehensible but fascinating in a horrible watching a car crash sort of way; and it's reassuring to learn that my hunch seems to have been pretty much on the money. Doubtless there are plenty of amoral shitbags out there quite capable of launching a testy rebuttal whilst providing mathematical proof of shareholders being more important than outdated ideas of democracy, and how those kids actually enjoy making our cheap running shoes for us, but from my purely subjective viewpoint, I don't see how it would be possible to finish this book whilst retaining the sort of warped political mentality it challenges with such eloquence, unless you're just plain fucking stupid, or evil, or both.

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