Sceptics Mumbo Jumbo Manual

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered theWorld
by Francis Wheen

When oft upon my couch I lie with my head in a book I sometimes wallow in my choice of pastimes. While growing up it was seen as so much more intellectual to read rather than do something else with one’s time. If there could be snobbery in my urban milieu it was one born from a determined rationalism. Books were supposedly a gateway to intellect.
So if you think you have the smarts, this book by Francis Wheen is for you. It doesn’t take much effort to recognise after a few years at the page face that there is an awful lot of crap between covers. I mean insidious, destructive mumbo jumbo that get’s passed around as the best thing since sliced bread was first written about.
Take post modernism - mumbo jumbo if there was ever a jumbo. I’m sorry if I offend by being so off hand about a fashionable intelligence but then I’ve just read my suffeit of Wheen and I doubt that any registered post modernist could survive his savage polemic against their preferred investigative‘narrative’. Similarly all those keen New Age-ists who wrap so much banana oil, such as that sold by Deepak Chopra, in big warm fuzzy hugs could learn a thing or two about the absolute irrationality of their preferences.Or the can do do-it-yourselvers who take on any one of any number of patented versions of awaking the giant within, they too may find that the inner giant may be out to lunch when they go to rouse same.
Firing broadsides at the new populist methodologies like these is Wheen’s forte,and when he packages them together you have to wonder where the collective brain is at nowadays. What, he keeps asking, happened to the Enlightenment? In unison with him you have to wonder.
Along with such an array of certifiable mumbo jumbo Wheen also throws in the new ideology of economic rationalism sponsored by such gurus as Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman. No slouch when in comes to being polemical, he addresses the new rightist ideology at its theoretical sources. In response you cannot help wondering how we were fooled these last thirty years into being so complacent while so many chatterboxes refined the marketing of the capitalistic ether we breath today.
It’s insidious. Across the board from Derrida to Tony Robbins to Ronald Reagan we are constantly being asked to disengage our brains and believe that these "systems" will work for us in the real world despite their shared determination to present that world as different from our own everyday experiences of it.
So if you are looking for a Sceptics Own Manual this book is for you. It may be a bit late in coming but at least Wheen has taken a broad sweep at attacking this pandemic voodooism that is being employed to warp our intellect. His is Rationalism for Dummies.
Nonetheless, in his determination to go on the offensive Wheen fails to explain where all this mumbo jumbo stuff fits in ideologically. Is their method in this madness? Are we just a bunch of fools being led by the nose because we suffer from the unfortunate delusions of crowds?
Similarly if it is not too much to ask of a registered rationalist, where does this mental weakness come from and why now?Wheen is keen to date the onset of unreason with the 1979 Iranian revolution and the concurrent rise of Thatcherism. So this period of Voodoo has, for him, a clearly defined time frame.
So it is strange that he side steps the invasion of Iraq. No matter how expectantly you read this book, on the obvious flip side to the events in of 1979 he falls silent-- that is until you get to a postscript written after the book was first published.
Here, as well as attacking the likes of Tariq Ali, John Pilger and the British SWP for supporting the Iraqi resistance, Wheen accuses the "self proclaimed" Left of being a new champion of obscurantism because of the side it has chosen in this conflict and its united front with Islamic outfits such as the Muslim Association of Britain.
In a rhetorical manoevre akin to those of George Orwell, Wheen, who has also published a biography of Karl Marx, is claiming space for himself on the left that proclaims a rigid loyalty to the Enlightment tradition. "Seldon has a hefty dose of rational thinking, been more necessary;" he writes, " seldom has it been harder to find."
This book is a great assault on the mindless crap we have to put up with day in day out but Wheen falls for the snob’s trap of playing at being more rational than thou.