Sunday, January 01, 2006

Idiot Proof, by Francis Wheen

This book is subtitled ‘Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons and the Erosion of Common Sense’. Actually, I think the copy I have must be an American edition, as the page of publishing details says it was first published in Great Britain under the title of How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions.

I heard Francis Wheen interviewed on ABC radio, and he was talking about how much he loved the classic by Charles Mackay Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. I got the impression that he wanted to write up his own contemporary version, hence the use of the word delusions in his original title (I wonder why it was changed for the Americans?)

Francis Wheen is one of those writers who is just a tad supercilious; he reminds me of those preternaturally smart kids at school, who knew every subject off hand before even being taught it. When interviewed on ABC radio he was asked if he was just a bit of a snob, going after all these popular fads, and the poor guy was a bit lost for words, and didn’t really answer the question. While there is a faint whiff of snobbery about Francis Wheen (not that I mind, I like a good dose of snobbery myself), this book is more serious than that.

Wheen starts his survey of the delusions of modern civilisation with the rise of Margaret Thatcher in England and the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran. In short, a criticism of free market ideology and fundamentalist religious creeds. That is one of the good things about this book, he takes pot shots at not just one side of politics and cultural thought, in this case the right, but goes right after the fundamentalist beliefs and philosophies of the left. No one is left out. Wheen even has a go at the likes of John Pilger and Noam Chomsky.

The aim of the book is an attempt to restore common sense in a world where we are being by the nose by the likes of Deepak Chopra and other spin merchants. Fat chance I say. (The part of the book which describes Tony and Cherie Blair’s re-birthing ceremony will blow your mind! The fact that Ronald Reagan’s travel plans had to get clearance from Nancy’s astrologer will – well, I don’t know what effect it will have on you. I can’t even digest information like this myself. It won’t go down).

This is a book for that minority of the public who prefer rational to magical thinking.

Web Experience Links by Francis Wheen:

Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies

Who Was Dr. Charlotte Bach?

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