I’ve been meaning to write something about Zygmunt Bauman for some time. Partly, because he is the first person I’ve come across who uses the term “post-modern” in a way I actually find useful in understanding what is going on now. But more, because being well into middle age myself, I find the idea of a man in his late seventies, tucked away in a suburb of Leeds, having a much better idea of what is happening in the world than many much younger commentators and publishing his thoughts about it prolifically, very encouraging. For me, Zygmunt Bauman stands as a beacon of hope, representing the possibility that aging doesn’t have to be a process of decline, but can be a period of active, intelligent engagement with a changing world.
In the past I have often used Alford Korzybski’s much quoted “A map is not the territory” when I have hit situations where our perceptions or models don’t seem to accurately reflect what is going on or what a situation is.
It was only very recently I came across a fuller version of this quote that seems much more interesting; “A map is not the territory it represents, but if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness”
If we think of the world of finance as a kind of map of the world of people creating, making, building, buying, selling, exchanging goods and services I am beginning to wonder how well the map represents the structure of what is going on. I have a growing sense of a disjunction between the two. And, if there is, may be we have to question how we think about finance, economics and the real world of productive human activity.
One of the things that irritates me is when we lose useful concepts when words are misused. Now, despite being a closet pedant, I am quite happy to accept that language evolves and that words do change their meaning. Attempts to freeze language are pointless and futile. More than that, the changing nature of language is a resource for thought. Often tracing the changing meanings of words like “education” or “jobs” is a means of generating new insights or innovations. But, there are words we can ill afford to lose. I am thinking, in particular, of words like “disinterest” and “disinterested”, which have come to mean in common usage the same thing as “uninterested”.
I was pleased to come across a piece by Terry Eagleton making a similar point. “Disinterestedness, a notion almost universally scorned by the cultural left nowadays, grew up in the 18th century as the opposite not of interests, but of self-interest. It was a weapon to wield against the Hobbesians and possessive individualists. Disinterestedness means not viewing the world from some sublime Olympian height, but a kind of compassion or fellow-feeling. It means trying to feel your way imaginatively into the experience of another, sharing their delight and sorrow without thinking of oneself.”