Comedian Tim Minchin said something about Isms once that stuck with me, they tend to be restrictive in their nature and they often tend to rely upon their followers to continue. After all, what would Catholicism be without the people? Empty buildings probably. So why is it that we so readily follow these Isms? For the most part we, as people, will have at least a few that we could relate to ourselves, whether it is religious, societal, self-appointed, externally-appointed or any other sort is irrelevant, but we do all have them.
So what’s your Ism? Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Feminism, Lesbianism, Capitalism, Socialism, Atheism… (the list goes on and on and on). Fundamentally, Ism itself is a suffix, derived from Ancient Greek and reaching English through Latin and French, an Ism is used to pertain to or signify an ideological standpoint. For that reason, in the English language, the list of Isms is probably endless; if you want to say that you follow Footballism or Fashionism, for example, it isn’t grammatically correct but people would know what you meant.
The problem I have though, with Isms, is that, as Minchin said, they require, or imply at the very least, absolute dedication and very often – although this is perhaps mostly because of the way modern society is – they require that you oppose other relatable Isms. For example, a follower of Catholicism cannot also be a follower of Hinduism, and a supporter of Atheism could not be a part of either of them. Isms, then, in my opinion immediately create and enforce gaps between people based upon their ideological standpoint. Perhaps this is fine in some case, but in others it is an unnecessary obstacle to societal diversity and cooperation. From the big to the little things, there is always conflict on one level or another based upon a fundamental difference in Isms.
…Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Feminism, Lesbianism, Capitalism, Socialism, Atheism…
If you use Twitter then you might follow Ricky Gervais, I have found that most of his Tweets or dialogues have pertained to the support of Atheism. That’s fine to a certain extent except that, in doing so, very often he attacks other Isms in a way that is ultimately definable as passive-aggressive. He says one thing and then all of the followers of Catholicism, for example, berate and verbally attack him for his sinful Atheism. The issue is that all of these people that have never met before end up in a slagging match based upon issues that, if they met, probably wouldn’t be an issue except if they were to start having deep conversations about it. To my mind it seems in modern society, ours particularly that is ever diversifying and in which access to others is becoming easier and easier, people use a set of Isms as a way of telling others what they should expect.
Bearing in mind that they are all Isms, what would your preconception of me be if I told you that I was an atheist liberal? That probably conjures up some thoughts, some of you, in no small part thanks to the more outspoken Atheists like Gervais, will assume that I hate religion, for example; this is an idea that is propagated by Isms in general. In modern society Atheism is seen not as a peaceful disagreement with religion, but as an open and hateful disdain for all things worship. Similarly if I were a feminist, stereotype would suggest that I hate men – thus hating myself in the process – and ultimately feeling like there needs to be some sort of bra-burning ceremony sometime soon.
…people use a set of Isms as a way of telling others what they should expect…
Perhaps my problem is not with Isms themselves, then. Perhaps my problem is with the people that use them or else the way that they use them. If, like I mentioned earlier, I were to go on your Facebook profile page and find out that you supported a load of Isms, then automatically you would have set us at an opposition if I were to disagree with one of your Isms. As already mentioned, an Ism is a dedicated ideology – a true belief in an Ism does inherently imply a very staunch basis of following. So think about whether you really do follow it before you tell people that you do. By all means do follow it, but just bear in mind that it does have societal repercussions.
How many fewer wars, fights, arguments and conflicts would there be in the world if we got rid of the people that naively told everyone that they are ………ist, or that they believe in ……….ism? Certainly, on a global level, consider how much Americans (at least in Hollywood films) hate Fascism and Communism (despite their governance systems ultimately being half-way between the two). Consider on a personal level how, if you’re a Catholic, you’ve had debates with Protestants or Muslims. Consider how in some parts of the world there are communities based around one Ism or other that refuse to have contact with another community that follows a different one. Think of places like Palestine where Isms have been the fundamental cause of years and years of conflict.
…bear in mind that it does have societal repercussions…
Think about all of that and consider whether it is worth defining yourself based on an Ism. Are you interested enough in not believing in God that you would happily set yourself apart from people because of it? Are you strongly opposed enough to women being with women that you would cut out anybody that supported it? Do you hate consumerism enough that you’re going to get rid of all of your things and go live in the forest? Although some of the points are exaggerated, when you’re talking about Isms you do have to consider that, at their fundamental level, they rely on a strength of conviction that, one day, you might be asked to call up.