ISMISM New concepts for the Nineties No.13: confusionism

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The Independent Online
This popular though little acknowledged cultural movement offers disguised approval to those failing to comprehend anything. Not to be confused with Confucianism (n), the 6th-century BC system of ethical and philosophical teaching founded in China by Confucius. Confucianism says: "Chase deer without a guide, and you will only go into the forest." Late 20th-century confusionists will splash out on expensive texts like Super Advanced Deer Hunting and still get lost.

Though confusionist historians will point to Shakespeare as an early neophyte ("For mine own part, it was Greek to me", Julius Caesar) most accept that the beat novelist Jack Kerouac first explained (or rather didn't explain) the creed when he wrote: "I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion."

The movement received its biggest boost in 1988 with the unexpected publishing success of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. This enabled ordinary people to purchase an everyday tale of advanced theoretical physics in the expectation they would go on to understand everything. Instead they fail to understand anything. The result? An international hardback bestseller, just out in paperback for even wider popular readership.

Chinese Confucianist say: "When the enlightened are injured in flight, they let their wings down." The confusionist will say instead: "Leave that Hawking paperback on the coffee table. I shall return to it later." (Aspirants of confusionism should not be seduced by that other popular science volume, Chaos, by James Gleick, which bizarrely fails to live up to its title's promise of perplexity.)

Although the witty New Yorker Dorothy Parker believed you could not teach an old dogma new tricks, she had not reckoned on the growth of political confusionism. The recent appearance of New Confusionism has allowed any worry over the complex differences between socialism and capitalism to evaporate. A variant is the New Christian Confusionism, as preached (but not practised) on matters of sexuality, by Dr David Hope, Archbishop-elect of York.

Confusionism permits some radical redefinitions. Where once two wrongs didn't make a right, now two wrongs, confusionistically, are merely a dry run for more wrongs. Hence the growing stature of political gurus. Nobody expects gurus such as Newt Gingrich or Professor Patrick Minford to be right, merely thoughtful, in a deep and meaningless way. In recognition of such advanced thinkers, it is rumoured that the Nobel committee may institute a new prize alongside physics, medicine and peace: for cognitive dissonance. As Confucius never said, "He that knows nothing, often repeats it."