This is a thesis I propose that I hope will inspire argument and disproval. And what is a thesis but ‘a new point of view resulting from research; usually a requirement for an advanced academic degree.’ Yet I offer mine without either the drudgery of extensive research or benefit of an advanced academic degree. A creation of my quiet moments, here it is, bold and bald-faced, warts and all.
We have Absolutism, Absurdism, Actualism, Agnosticism, Altruism and Animism followed by Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Asceticism and Atheism. Yet, my god, these are but a few of those listed and we are not yet out of the first letter of the alphabet.
We mostly recognize the standbys; Capitalism, Communism, Fascism (and its famous companions, Hitlerism and Stalinism). Then there’s Darwinism, Environmentalism, Socialism and, for those with a long enough memory, McCarthyism. So I’ll grant you, it’s a hell of a long list and yet only one ism, it would seem to me, dominates all others. Now to dominate, I hope you’ll agree that whatever my choice, it must be the enabler of all others. If we agree on this requisite, without its presence all others must cease to exist. As Johnny Carson was wont to say, “You buy the premise, you buy the bit.”
And so, to appropriate drum-rolls, I offer my candidate: Opportunism.
It’s been turning in my mind for a while and I can find no flaw in the choice. Perhaps you can and I would welcome and be intrigued by your argument against the premise. Having bought my own premise, I’ll grab the bit in my teeth and run.
Beginning with an appropriately broad scope, I offer up Nature—the engine that drives the planet. The smallest wind-blown seed takes hold in a crack in the pavement, threatening the road in similar manner to water finding an opportunistic crack in our largest constructions, threatening to bring them down by expanding to ice. Society spends enormous sums of labor and money simply to fight back such threats, all of them caused by opportunity. Mow the lawn, kill the weeds and fill the potholes. Would Man even exist without the opportunity a meteor took to strike the Earth and rub out the dinosaurs that ruled our planet for 135 million years?
Mankind (one of whom puts forth this current exercise in semantics) has only been kicking around this planet for 200,000 years or so, a mere 675th the life of Spielberg’s celebrated dinosaurs. By that measure and guarding the opportunity, we have a long road ahead to prove ourselves a dominant species. As a side comment, looking at the evidence at hand, we stand an overwhelming chance of fading from the scene before we reach that goal. But, fascinating as it may be, that’s another subject
Now consider Politics and I mean that word in its broadest sense, where nearly all things are political, from the establishment of hierarchies in tribes, along with marriages and decisions by families, to who will serve and who will eat and onward, to the mess in the Middle East and deadlock in our American Congress. Are they not all established by opportunity? Doesn’t Dad decide which kid will wash the car and Mom where the family will vacation by subtle (or not so subtle) force of mind? He or she has the opportunity to enforce such decisions and so they do.
President Bush named himself The Decider because the political opportunity was there, presented to him by chance and a nation in fear of terrorism. Those opportunistic circumstances led on and on. Hitler was generally considered by history to be a madman, but the seed of his opportunity was sown in the harshly punitive 1918 Armistice and Germany took him from there, reinforcing his opportunity by democratic support until German democracy was no longer recognizable. Germany was a democratic republic. Hitler’s sense of opportunity at hand turned it into an evil and destructive dictatorship.
Democracy, unlike communism, dictatorship and fascism can’t be force-fed, as we learned to our dismay in Iraq and Afghanistan. All one can do is make the opportunity available and hope it flowers.
In Science and the Arts, are they each not more surely driven by opportunity than happenstance? Science is the essence of the opportunity modern man’s mind has to conceive--to free-wheel beyond the known and then arduously disprove and disprove and disprove, until disproof is no longer possible and fact is established. Einstein’s law of photoelectric effect was a theory before it became a law and led to further opportunity, establishing the basis of today’s quantum theory. The invention of computers led to computer modeling and hastened these disproofs a millionfold (perhaps a billionfold), allowing blinding rates of discovery to bring us a cornucopia of invention. Much of it was not technically possible before that opportunistic event.
Music, art, film and their instantaneous distribution across the planet were similarly enabled by opportunity, as was financial disaster, job loss, fraud and downright thievery. One can, if one’s mind is open enough, name both the agony and the ecstasy art-forms.
So that’s the Cliff-Notes on my yet-unproven theory and I won’t tire you further with examples. But I invite those of you who had the dogged persistence to read it thus far to comment. Tear me up. Rip me apart. I welcome your opportunity to comment and prove me wrong.
Then perhaps I can get it off my mind and go lie in my hammock, stopping mercifully short of the last letter of the alphabet and Zoroastrianism.