Feng shui is a threat to the nation
The writer and broadcaster Terence Blacker contributes a twice-weekly column on a wide range of social, cultural and environmental issues. He is the author of four novels, of prize-winning fiction for children, and has written a highly praised biography of the brilliant reprobate Willie Donaldson.
Tuesday 25 May 1999
The most obvious, and embarrassing, symptom of the new stupidity is to be found in the craze for the Far Eastern practice of feng shui. All over the country, it seems, there are people who believe that a blocked door in the house can cause constipation and that wind-chimes over the bed will enhance marital happiness, while regularly sprinkling rice around the perimeters will help personal growth. Those, like me, who live in an incomplete and spiritually unlucky L-shaped house should apparently think of moving to more harmonious surroundings.
Harmless enough tosh, one might think. For hundreds of years, wise and gentle Chinese have presumably believed in the energy of ch'i and the need for correctly sited doorways and spiritually acceptable colour schemes in their bamboo huts without any obvious ill-effect. In the West, there has always been a market for this kind of thing, whether it be feng shui, astral projection, levitation or contacting Auntie Doreen on the other side.
Only the other day, Talk Radio devoted an hour-long phone-in to a man who was convinced that human beings essentially communicate backwards; that all sorts of fascinating, weird stuff can be deciphered, for example, by playing the speeches of Bill Clinton on a reverse tape.What is now odd and alarming is that exotic belief systems and cranky conspiracy theories no longer merely appeal to the vulnerable and feeble-minded; they have a vast constituency. Callers to Talk really took seriously the man with his absurd, indecipherable tapes.
Feng shui has become big business, with large firms spending thousands on moving their lavatories to a favourable position. The Mail on Sunday has a feng shui advice column. Even book publishers, notoriously slow off the mark, have woken up to the fact that money is to be made here: 73 books on the subject were published in 1998, including Lillian Too's Little Book of Feng Shui, which has already sold more than half a million copies.
According to Miss Too's publisher, the interest in New Age remedies and beliefs is "part of a widespread reaction against the commercialism of the Eighties", a view supported by something called the Future Foundation whose recent report into consumer trends concluded that Thatcherite selfishness had been replaced by gentle, caring "self-actualisation".
The problem is not simply that this is a faulty analysis - spiritual self-obsession is as harmful and exclusive as financial greed - but that a general misty-eyed mindlessness can so easily seep from the personal to the political. On last week's disturbing Panorama programme into the background to the issue of GM foods, the tough-talking pragmatist of the moment, Jack Cunningham, was asked whether the two new advisory bodies he was creating would, unlike the existing committees, include a few people not committed to biotechnology, who took a cynical view of the multinationals promoting it. The Cabinet enforcer was outraged. This was no time for cynics, he replied. There had been too much cynicism in the past. It was time for commitment to change, for positive thinking.
In other words, faith was what mattered. Those who stood back, taking a sceptical view of the Government's intentions, were not just intellectually wrong, but morally wrong, too: they were against progress, science and an end to world hunger. By refusing to be moved by the Government's honest reassurances about the activities of Monsanto and Zeneca, or by the photographs of the Prime Minister moving among the refugees like a Mother Teresa in shirtsleeves, these sneering rationalists merely revealed that they lacked the emotional integrity, the faith, of good, self-actualised, believing folk.
I'm not saying Jack Cunningham sprinkles rice around his house, or that wind-chimes hang over the Blair marital bed. But a warm ch'i of insincerity wafts through the feng shui politics of a Government for whom feelings so often take the place of rational analysis.
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