What is the next big idea that will move the world: A yet another top-ten list!

Tintin's illustration


The thesis of Clash of Civilizations and such other paradigms (there cannot be a ‘fraud-intellectual’ paper without the word paradigm) having failed to predict the next-big-idea that shall move the world, it is now up to me to give it a try. I shall not shy away from this duty. But to do so, I must, as a student of history, first make a top-ten list of the ideas that moved the world so far.

“Why a top-ten list,” you ask? “Why not,” is my answer. I love top ten lists.

Anyway, enough arguments. We must get to the brass-tacks now. Here is the list, in chronological order:

  1. Survival: For long this big idea ruled the world. It still does, but not as a ‘top-of-the-mind’ motive that drives the world. It was in the stable city states that came up after the creation of an agricultural surplus that gave man the luxury of indulging in the next big idea, which was…
  2. Religion: Or, to be more exact, an organized idea of religion with a priestly class. Religion, as distinct from God, is a creation of man (a well-fed idle man), who wishes to explain the world and predict the future (like me). The gathering riches in the temples and churches of early city states, and the war between the city-states led, slowly and inevitably, to creation of armies, which led to…
  3. Royalty: This simple but awesome idea was also supported by those motivated by survival and religion. It seemed to answer the question, ‘how to discipline the society’. From attributing Divine essence in the kings to justifying it through social contract theory, the idea and legitimacy of royalty had to be intellectually protected at various times. The bards sold themselves for a handful of silver, the priests sullenly agreed to cede top space in face of the armies, and the common people (who often got fed up with the royals) were sometimes suppressed and sometimes pampered. But the space at the top was too narrow. Poor man-management by the royals, sibling rivalries and the instigation of the priests led to the idea of…
  4. Feudalism: This gave more space at the top, though it fragmented the state from the size of a powerful empire to small states (sometimes under a benign umbrella of a weak empire). The feudals merrily fought each other (playing ‘battles’ was their hobby), exploited the serfs and kept the priests in good humor. An unforeseen result of this was the creation of too many aristocrats who had nothing to do between battles, and it was they who advocated the next big idea, which was…
  5. Enlightenment: Humanism, Scientific enquiry, resurgence of interest in arts and learning and books…the world went crazy for the intellectuals. Leonardo and Galileo, Erasmus and Voltaire…they were the pop stars of the late middle ages. They worked in Sanskritised languages like Latin or in the local dialects, leading, unwittingly, to…
  6. Nationalism: The idea of a country, so popular now, was not something that kept people awake even a few hundred years ago. Nowhere in the world was this idea popular, or seemed likely to attract much traction. And yet…It was the question of reorganizing the society in terms of identities that would help the royals once again free himself from the clutches of the other royals and the priests, that made nation states popular. Modern world starts with this mess. So powerful did the idea become, unchallenged as it was at the nascent stage, that it led to wars and something more powerful, that is….
  7. Greed: Or, to give its respectable name, the economic idea. Wealth of nations, colonialism, centralized banks, money economy…all the trappings of the modern world were quickly put into place by the advisers of the royalty, who, poor sods, believed that they would be getting more and more powerful with the gold that was being hoarded in the central treasuries. However, education was playing its insidious role of provoking an ever increasing numbers of the middle classes. They struck back into many forms, and as a generic title we can call the movement…
  8. Socialism: From strong move towards democratic ideals to ‘power back to the society’, the idea of society organizing itself without a royal at the head, took many shapes. Marxism to mild democratic socialism was the death-knell of the royals, but not of nationalism (Though Marxist-Lennists did try that hand). The fight for supremacy between nationalism, greed and social compact raged throughout the twentieth century in form of the Cold War, but with diminishing returns. Higher education, and mass media sought to bring back the ideals of the age of Humanism and Enlightenment, but the hotchpotch actually led to the age of the…
  9. Hippy: Rebelling against everything was the rage. Peaking during the second half of the twentieth century, the pop stars, the novelists, the intellectuals, the college students…in fact all those who did not have to worry about their next meal, indulged in rebelling against establishment, and in favour of…well anything. The youth, goaded on by the professors, rushed in to save the women, the environment and everything else that came in sight. They lived a life of ‘poverty-ridden hedonism’ a very original concept, since it suited the poor-rich generation. But soon they were bored and slowly turned to…
  10. Individualism: The individual as the centre of universe is not a new idea, but technology, security and adequate surpluses in the system gives us an opportunity to live out this idea too. Loyalty towards none but the self is the motto and the religion. It is an unabashed declaration of independence of individual from any institution. Live in relationships, individual greed, cross-national lifestyles – in short loyalty towards none.

Now that we have reached the present, we come to our basic question, what next?

An easy answer would be that since all the above tendencies simultaneously exist in the society today, and are vying for supremacy, one or the other would make a comeback of sorts. Now you understand why I said Clash of Civilizations idea was a flop? It was another rehash of old battles, and was not the next-big-thing. But that answer would hardly be intellectually satisfying.

I must admit that, as of now, I do not know. I assure you I will keep my eyes open, and, as soon as something interesting comes up, I would let you know. In the meanwhile, we may, if you wish, add to this awesome top-ten list, by filling in the gaping holes. Or give me an idea for yet another top-ten list.



About Abhishek

I will let the blog speak for itself...or, at times, for me. View all posts by Abhishek

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