Francis Wheen. How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: a Short History of Modern Delusions. Fourth Estate, 2004.

Wheen’s panoramic survey of the of the golden calves and sacred cows of the last twenty years of the twentieth century reminds us the that lunatic mumbo-jumbo extends far beyond the safe boundaries delineated by CSICOP, into the heart of the world’s establishments. Wheen’s breathless axe job on a whole range of post modernities from Friendmanite-Thatcherite economics, religious medievalism, pseudo lefty postmodernism and knee-jerk anti-Americanism, New Age nonsense, emoting Diana-worship, market worship, management crap, ‘Third Way’ politics, dotcom mania and all the other gunge of our age (The one significant omission is the all pervasive cult of the victim/survivor).

Wheen argues that behind many of these often mutually antagonistic phenomena there is a unifying factor, the rejection of the values of the Enlightenment, such as free inquiry, critical thinking and general crap-detecting. Instead many of these ideas are taken up with religious fervour, the idea that some slogan or simplistic solution can offer the all embracing answer of the human condition. They are pursued with literally evangelical fervour, with the fervent cry of “only believe”.

While the Right, both secular and religious, has at least an idea, the return to a fictitious golden age: ‘Islam at the time of the Prophet’, ‘Victorian Values’, ‘A Christian America’, or whatever; the Left has largely abandoned its committed to social reform, human emancipation and the like, and has retreated into a world of soundbites and meaningless slogans, or endorsing reactionary notions of cultural essentialism and condoning of all sorts of class and gender oppression under the rubric of ‘multiculturalism’. Curiously it is always other people, usually those with darker coloured skins who are expected to abide by the norms of their traditional societies, and never the white ‘multiculturalists’ themselves. Calls for respecting such traditional European customs as burning witches at the stake, owning slaves or sending children up chimneys, are not exactly plentiful.

In an age in which the political élites simply compete as to who can best manage the masses on behalf of the their corporate paymasters, and when few people have any sense of control over their lives, it is not surprising that a host of New Age nostrums offering prozac for the masses, a little bit of solace in a bleak and unforgiving world, should take over. They suit the corporate age because, unlike old time religion at its best, they offer no alternative vision, no sense of the world being turned upside down and the first being last and other not entirely corporately-correct ideas.

Becoming a better corporate player is perhaps the best they have to offer. At worst they can give you the comfort of knowing that though you live in a nice suburban house, earn a decent living in a rather boring job, you too are a victim of someone or something or other, and therefore spiritually on a par with a campasino in a shanty town who doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from. And you needn’t worry about all those starving kids in Africa because they’re just paying off the karmic debt from their past lives as Nazis, so they’re not real victims like you, suffering such psychic pain because when you were a kid your mummy wouldn’t buy you the trainers you wanted. -- Peter Rogerson

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