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#sowhoknew: Is there a good ism?

Watching the ongoing discussions about racism and fascism after the events in Charlottesville over the past week has got me thinking: are there any good ism’s that actually help society or are they all detrimental to our general wellbeing?

An ism is effectively a belief system, an ideology that you have wholeheartedly bought into and declared, if not publicly, at least to yourself. And that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing but why does it seem (at least to me) that most ism’s end up having negative connotations? Beyond the two examples I have already quoted, we have (in no particular order) sexism, anarchism, cynicism, radicalism, egoism, materialism, nihilism, pessimism, skepticism, dogmatism etc. Clearly not all of these are entirely negative (e.g. sometimes a healthy does of cynicism is perfectly acceptable in my book) but I would warrant that they are generally considered to be more gloomy than positive.

So what about more cheery ism’s? Well firstly let’s avoid all the ones associated with religion as that’s a can of worms I don’t wish to open. I’m not being irreligionist (yep it’s a thing) but I think it will just complicate matters. Anyway there are a few more positive isms such as optimism, positivism, altruism, collectivism, humanism, romanticism etc. Maybe it’s just me but they don’t seem to convey the same energy as their more negative counterparts. Humanism vs anarchism? Optimism vs pessimism? See where I’m coming from?

Whilst musing over my assertion that isms are generally lousy, I decided to do a little research to see if there was anybody else out there that followed the same line of thinking. I stumbled across an excellent article by Scott H Young who wrote a piece entitled “The Danger of isms” back in 2011 which explores similar territory. In his blog, Young talks about how:

“Isms develop as a way to separate people into distinct tribes. The downside is that tribal logic isn’t rational. Instead of trying to decide which belief system is true or most pragmatic, people defend their tribe at all costs”

Young talks about 2 ways of avoiding, what he calls, “the destructive effects of isms”:
1. Never declare your “isms”, either publicly or to yourself
2. Have “isms” but fiercely avoid making them a part of your identity

I agree with what Young advocates apart from declaring your ism’s to yourself. I don’t believe you can truly hide from yourself which ideologies you choose to believe in but I can understand why you might want to evade making those views public for fear of recrimination.

Young also goes on to make a very powerful point about why he has so much disdain for isms:

“I dislike isms because I believe that the proper reason to believe something in almost all cases is because the evidence supports it. Strengthening conviction beyond evidence just doesn’t make sense”

That is an opinion I can completely buy into. Let’s take the example of racism. What evidence is there to prove the ideology? Clearly there isn’t any. As Young rightly says, having such a strong conviction of that belief without any evidence doesn’t make any sense. Put it another way, a classic example of absurdism.


So what do you think? Do negative isms outweigh the positive ones? If so, what can we do about it? As ever, I am keen to hear your point of view.

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.
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