Jul/Aug 2018 Nonfiction

Isms of the World: A Guide for Children

by Larry Smith

It's important to know about isms. An ism is something you and many other people think or feel or do. Sometimes when we think something strongly, it's because we know that millions of others do, too, and we want to be a part of it. That's a real ism! It can be a religion or a political belief about how the world should be run. "Catholicism" and "Communism" are examples of these kinds of isms that you can read about in this book.

An ism can also be a state of being, so if you and other people do something often enough, and it gets to be like a pattern you can trace, that would be an ism, too. "Nepotism" and "onanism" are examples of these kinds of isms that you can read about in this book.

Once you know and understand all the isms, you understand everything there is to know and understand. Of course, no one could possibly know all about every ism. That would take a million years. This book will just help get you started.


Anti-Semitism. The belief that Jewish people are bad people, usually because they're sneaking around and doing things to get rich while everybody else is working hard and not going anywhere. Some people also hate Jews because they invented too many isms! (These are isms that upset people. They include Marxism and Freudianism, as well as Judaism.)

A lot of famous people were anti-Semitic even though it's wrong, including Hitler, Edith Wharton, and Arthur Godfrey.


Capitalism. This is the belief in making money by relying on your own talents without the government giving you anything. It's the belief that we build a freer and better world that way. And it's the belief in not interfering with certain natural laws about how we buy and sell things.

Take, for example, the law of supply and demand. If people want something, capitalism means that you build a better world because the people who make it become more successful than the ones who are making something people don't want. That's how people's needs get satisfied. Products get better this way, too, since people will buy the better ones unless they make a mistake when they go shopping. But then, if they do make a mistake, they'll know better for next time.

Let's look at a real-life example. McDonald's sells a lot more Big Macs than Burger King sells Whoppers. Which one do you like better? Why? Because it tastes better? Because it doesn't cost as much money? Because it's more fun to go there? I bet it's really a little of all three!

Here's something to think about: a lot of people don't think capitalism is an ism at all. They say it's just the way things go.


Careerism. This means a way of living life so that hardly anything is more important to you than your work. Typical people who are driven by careerism include lawyers, consultants, politicians, architects, and life counselors. People who love art and literature often despise careerism, but you never know. For example, I despise careerism because it's so selfish and people who are careerists don't care about what's beyond the here-and-now. They don't hunger for great eternal things. On the other hand, is your daddy or mommy in the publishing business? Would you like to show them this book? Do you think they would like it? Do you think they would want to publish it so that it really looks like a book? If so, please tell them to let me know by sending me an email. They can just call me "Larry." Thank you so much.


Catholicism. It is a religion that has its main church in Rome. Catholics believe in Jesus just like you do. For them, however, the church is a go-between, so that the priests have power to forgive you your sins and put the body of Jesus into your mouth. While that sounds pretty disgusting, it isn't really. It brings people into a closer union with God. In fact, one reason primitive peoples converted to the worship of Jesus in such great numbers is that this partaking of the flesh of Jesus reminded them of some of their most basic instincts.

Basic instincts are healthy, provided you use them right, although Catholicism frowns on a lot of basic instincts. Sometimes Catholics feel very dirty about themselves, but they get to confess sins to the priest and they're always forgiven.

Catholicism was the first church to worship Jesus. It is a very powerful religion in Ireland and Spain, as well as Italy. Catholics don't always agree with each other, even though they're Catholics. Some Catholics go to one extreme and are like Communists (see Communism below). Some Catholics go the other extreme and are like Nazis (see Naziism below). But most Catholics are somewhere in between. They're just right.


Communism. This is very interesting. Communism is the belief that all things should be owned by everybody. Particularly important, you can't own what someone else has worked to build. Instead, the people who labor to build things should be in charge of what's called the "means of production."

Communists came around after the Industrial Revolution, during a modern period of history. Yet a lot of what they're saying is reminiscent of how primitive peoples used to live, when everyone knew their job and gathered around the same pot.

People who are not Communists really hate it. In part, they have a fear of sharing so much that they'd lose their unique identities. They feel Communists are trying to drag them into a vast dark pool where everything mixes up with everything else. I call that the "great pit of undifferentiation."

People also hate Communism because the Communists have concentrated all power in the state, since only the state can bring about the drastic changes in how we live that the Communists want. The governments that have tried to do this were very ruthless. In Russia, for example, the government killed 30 million people, far more than what the Nazis (see Naziism below) killed. The Communists had much more time to do it, but still a lot of conservatives (see Conservatism below) always like to say how the Communists were really worse than the Nazis.

That doesn't quite make sense. I have friends who used to be Communists, and I'm sure your parents do, too. But I don't have any friends who used to be Nazis, and I'm sure your parents don't, either.


Conservatism. It has everything to do with the word "conserve." A person who believes in conservatism is usually wanting to save the moral values of older times. In politics, a conservative will favor policies meant to help people save those values. Families are a good example. Conservatives like political leaders who help us by talking about how good it is to have a family.

But a conservative could also be a person who wants judges and lawmakers to stick very close to the original way in which the laws were written, particularly if the laws come from the Constitution. Or a conservative is someone who wants government not to interfere with business. Most conservatives are capitalists, although a lot of conservatives are called "cultural conservatives" because they want people to appreciate Chaucer and things like that. These conservatives don't always like capitalism because they think television commercials are so stupid and don't really do a lot to help conserve old-time moral values. I agree, don't you?


Dadaism. This was a funny kind of art in Europe. What happened was, artists got really tired of society because they thought it was hypocritical and tiresome. So they invented a kind of art in which strange things would happen and bizarre images would be presented, all with the idea of being destructive to old-time values. If you believe in Dadaism, you believe that art should have no sense and it should be funny in a way that outrages respectable people. Dadaism faded out in Europe in the 1940s because it was no longer necessary to be destructive.


Existentialism. This is a whole philosophy that says that your condition is really what counts, not some ideal of what you're supposed to be all about. Let's say that, no matter how hard you try, you just don't love your mother. Everybody thinks you're supposed to love your mother. Everybody thinks motherhood is blessed. Everybody thinks it's the essence of human beings to love their mothers. But your actual condition, your existence, comes first; that's why they call it existentialism. The saying is, existence precedes essence. The fact that stands out about your existence is you simply don't love your mother, so what can you do!

Actually, what people do is very important in existentialism. Even though we don't have guidance from essences like motherhood, we still have to act very responsibly. For example, you don't go out and kill your mother. You have to bear the burden of having a mother and not loving her. That's called good faith, and it is good faith, even if it's not much consolation to your mother.


Fundamentalism. The belief that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally. In other words, if the Bible says the world was created in seven days, it was created in seven days. No ifs, ands, or buts, just like when mommy or daddy tell you to clean up your room.

Sometimes, fundamentalism can be tricky, though (see Onanism below). And you shouldn't think that people who are fundamentalists are stupid or dull or lack in creativity just because they believe every word the Bible tells them. I'll give you an example. The Bible, like most religious books, deplores greed and materialism in favor of spiritual things, and the meek, sweet holiness of poor people. The exact word of the Bible which all fundamentalists believe in is that it is harder for a rich man to go to heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

But many fundamentalists, including religious leaders, have earned a real lot of money. But that's okay, because the literal word of the Bible isn't that rich men won't go to heaven, but that it's just a little harder for them to do so than for a camel to pass through a needle. The Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and the Red Sea parted for the Israelites to walk safely across. So if all that can happen, why can't a camel pass through the eye of a needle? In fact, if a good man like a reverend gets rich, it means God has actually made a camel pass through a needle, so the good man must really deserve to get rich! That's what I mean when I say people who believe in the exact words of the Bible don't lack in creativity.


Hinduism. This is one of my favorite religions. It's the religion of the Indian people, but it actually came to India from the Caucasus Mountains 2,000 years before Jesus Christ was born. That means it's a lot older than Christianity. Lots of invaders went into India and brought their own religion with them, but Hinduism always absorbed these other religions. They didn't have to fight them in battles. In fact, they often lost the battles. Yet the gods of the people who won the battles seemed to melt into the Hindu culture and become part of it. That may be because it's so hot in India. Things just seem to get mixed up. Remember when we talked about Communism (see Communism above), we talked about the "great pit of undifferentiation"? When you go to India, sometimes you can't help but fall into it. That happened even to the British when they owned India, and it certainly happened to older peoples who lost their own identities after they conquered the land.

I love Hinduism because the symbols and statues and what are called icons are so wonderful. There's this one god called Shiva who is pictured doing a great dance in which the world is created and destroyed and created again, over and over and over.

A lot of people don't love Hinduism because of the caste system. Hindus are all born into different groups that mark them for life. They have different jobs they have to do for all their lives, and some are considered lower than others. The lowest of the low aren't even allowed to touch other people. In fact, they're called the Untouchables. The highest caste is the Brahmins, or priests, although being the highest doesn't necessarily mean they're rich. In fact, there are some pretty poor Brahmins floating around. The caste system is a bit obnoxious, I admit, because it's almost like slavery. It's not like in the United States where a truck driver can work hard and become a dispatcher, or a woman lawyer can decide to take time off and write a book about childbearing or aerobic breathing exercises. But I still think Hinduism is fascinating.


Hitlerism. So great and terrible and yet fascinating was the effect of Naziism (see Naziism below) on the world that people describe it with an additional ism named after its leader Adolph Hitler. The only difference between the two isms is that Hitlerism suggests a particularly strong allegiance to the person Hitler. Theoretically, you could be a Nazi without following everything Hitler said, so I guess in that situation you'd believe in Naziism but not Hitlerism. Or, you might believe in Hitler's theories about race or the greatness of German people without necessarily believing in the economic theories of National Socialism and Naziism (see National Socialism below). Then you'd believe in Hitlerism but not Naziism.

It is interesting that when you put an ism on a man's name, it makes it a different kind of belief system than others, even similar ones like Naziism is to Hitlerism. There's a lot of difference, though, between what is meant by Stalinism and what is meant by Communism (see Communism above and Stalinism below). In fact, some Communists really hate Stalinism. But Hitlerism is still pretty close to Naziism and National Socialism, and I've never known of a Nazi or National Socialist who would say he hates Hitlerism.

Remember, just because Hitler has his own ism doesn't make it right. In fact, Hitler wasn't just a bad man, he was a disgusting man. This may be hard to understand, but he liked to go poo-poo on his female cousin and maybe on other women, too. Even when he was at the height of his power, a lot of people all over the world knew that about him.

However, not everyone who makes poo-poo on other people is necessarily a Nazi or a believer in Hitlerism.


Leninism. The form of Communism (see Communism above) closest to the beliefs of Vladimir Lenin, who led the Communists to victory in Russia under the flag of the Bolshevik Party. Lenin had many thoughts, including that there should be a separate stage in the Communist revolution before the working people took over. During this stage, the "bourgeois" class, which is like the middle class, would run things until the working class got ready. Lenin was a middle-class person, although his father lost his job in Russia and they didn't have any money. Many people who start revolutions have families that lost their money.

Lenin was very dedicated. There is a beautiful piece of music by Ludwig van Beethoven called the "Moonlight Sonata," which Lenin didn't ever want to listen to because it distracted him from his tough job. He was very dedicated.


Liberalism. See Neo-Conservatism below.


Maoism. The form of Communism (see Communism above) closest to the teachings of Mao Zedong, who led the revolution in China. He was called Chairman Mao because he was the Chairman of the Communist Party. All of his teachings about being dedicated to the revolution are collected in a little red book called the Little Red Book.

Maoism is a good example of how sometimes in politics an ism develops, not because an idea is all that different from other ideas, but because it's an expression of one person's dynamic personality that has changed history. Maoism is distinctive mainly because of Chairman Mao's personality.

It's hard to describe Chairman Mao's personality. He was extremely ruthless and inscrutable, and yet sometimes, because he had a face that reminded people of the Oriental god called the Buddha, you would have thought he was wise and loving, even though he wasn't. But that only begins to describe the personality of Chairman Mao, which left such an impression on Communism it created a whole new ism. You probably had to be there.


Modernism. This is the movement in art and literature that happened at the end of the 19th century and continued until after World War II. It takes in quite a lot of things, but really means the search for new ways to organize and understand life in general. Take painting, for example. You show that a tree doesn't just have roots and branches and a trunk, but it's a collection of different forms, like circles and squares and columns. Or, in literature, instead of talking about what a person does, or the adventures he has, you describe every one of his or her thoughts so you can see how this person tries to get by and make sense of a dangerous and confusing world.

People who are modernists are really searching for something. They're searching for a new world to replace the old one where everybody was certain about everything because they had religion and they loved their countries and felt close to their families.

Now we have something called post-modernism (see Post-modernism below), which says there really isn't any one or two meaningful views of things that can help us replace the old ways of looking at the world. I guess modernism didn't work.


National Socialism. The part of Naziism (see Naziism below) that has most to do with how the government should control all parts of a country's economy. It's a little like Communism but actually the opposite of Socialism (see Communism above). That's because socialists tend to really love all mankind and National Socialists only love Germans and certain Austrians. Socialists tend to have noble thoughts and National Socialists don't, maybe because they're nationalists, which means they care more about the people in their own countries.

The National Socialist I hate the most besides Adolph Hitler was his minister Joseph Goebbels because Goebbels was a man who thought in some ways like a scientist, using logic all the way, but using it ultimately for evil purposes. It's scary to think reason can be used to arrive at evil conclusions.

Read up on the National Socialists. Which Nazi do you hate the most?


Naziism. The belief that the Nazi Party had the right ideas about what Germany should have been doing in the 1930s and for as long as possible afterwards. Adolph Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party (see Hitlerism above), predicted Naziism would go on for 1,000 years, and everybody in Germany would be bound together in the common cause of dominating everybody else in the world. Naziism is a very nationalistic form of fascism. Think about how many isms you can name just to describe what happened in Germany in those years! Can you think of anything else with so many isms?

Yes, Communism! Communism also has things called Bolshevism and Menshivism, Leninism and Maoism (see Leninism above and Maoism above), Marxism, Socialism, and Stalinism (see Stalinism below). Communists and Nazis certainly like to believe in things, and they use many names to talk about it.


Neo-Conservatism. See Liberalism above.


Nepotism. Not all isms mean as much as other isms. Some are just things you do or ways of behaving rather than what's called whole belief systems, like a religion or political philosophy. Nepotism is an example. It means appointing family members to important jobs even when they're not necessarily qualified to do the job. Now that's hardly as big a thing as Communism (see Communism above) or Catholicism (see Catholicism above), is it?

Say the boss of a company appointed his nephew to be the vice president and his daughter to run the sales department. That would be nepotism. Say the President of the United States made his brother-in-law a Supreme Court judge. That would be nepotism, too.

In a funny way, though, nepotism might not really be so much smaller an ism, or an ism that's really all that different from, say, Communism or Catholicism. After all, when you foist all your relatives on a company or on a country, it's not just because you want to do them a favor. Often, it's a way of having real power by making your own people—in this case, your family rather than your country or faith—the dominant tribe around. Tribes are what isms are all about.

Nobody calls themselves a nepotist, though, like they call themselves Communists or Catholics. Instead, they call themselves by their family names, like Bonaparte or Kennedy or Foy.


Onanism. Even the Bible is concerned about masturbation and how sometimes it isn't the right thing to do too often. Onanism comes from the name Onan, a person in the Bible who "spilled his seed upon the ground." That means, his sperm fluids weren't shared with another person, but instead fell meaninglessly to the ground after he had satisfied himself. It became a sin.

What's unusual is that planting seed in the ground is one of the most useful things a person can do, since that's how things grow when people like farmers do it. So this is an odd case where something really means the opposite of what it usually means. Language is often like that, full of oddities. Sometimes it's very strange and mysterious the way words work.

Should people feel they've sinned like Onan when they masturbate? The Bible is a great and good book, but, in the modern world, we don't really take that harsh a view of masturbation, except when people do it all the time. Even then, they're probably doing it all the time because they have an emotional problem that can be solved, not because they're evil.

I was about to say onanism is one of those isms that's really more a way of behaving than a belief system. But it's funny. When you think about it, you can reach a similar conclusion about onanism as the one we reached when we were talking about nepotism (see Nepotism above). You can conclude that, in fact, onanism is as much an ism as any other ism. Some people don't believe in anything else except their own fantasies, and all the thoughts they think are colored by their fantasies. Even though they're not actually masturbating, they could therefore be said to be onanists, and to believe in onanism.

At least one great French writer, Jean Genet, made a whole religion out of being an onanist and imagining all sorts of things happening to people, both scandalous things having to do with sex and beautiful things having to do with religion. For Genet, onanism was as much an ism as Leninism was for, well, Lenin (see Leninism above).


Post-modernism. The view that things in general don't have much meaning because everything you think or do or believe in is on a level with everything else. A painting of a soup can isn't necessarily worth less than the great Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. It's like the story in the Bible about the Tower of Babel where everybody was talking a different language.

Intellectuals who call themselves post-modernists like to use their computers a lot and talk about using them, especially now that we have the Internet. When everybody in the world is talking to everybody else, they couldn't possibly be saying much. Have you heard about people who fall in love over the computer when, for example, a man pretends to be a woman and leaves his family for another man he's been talking to online even though the other man could be a woman? That's very post-modern.


Protestantism. The religion that started in the 16th century when Martin Luther got tired of the Catholic Church always claiming to be the agent of God on the earth and using that claim to amass great power. His religious movement protested against the Catholic Church, so that's why it's called Protestantism.

Luther taught that people have more of a one-to-one relationship with God, so they don't need all the go-betweens. Some Protestants don't believe the wafer you eat in church is actually the flesh of Jesus, which is the way Catholics believe. It makes sense that Protestants would disagree. If the wafer in your mouth is actually Jesus, then the priests who have the authority to put it there must be pretty important. Martin Luther didn't want them to be that important.

Protestants believe people should be individuals. That's why there are so many types of Protestants. Different Protestants had their own way of not being Catholics, so they created different kinds of Protestantism. Which kind of Protestant are you?

There are many interesting things about Protestantism. For example, Martin Luther had his first great religious revelation while having a very big bowel movement. Remember we talked about the awful practice Adolph Hitler had of going to the bathroom on other people? (See Hitlerism above.) We're not comparing Martin Luther and Adolph Hitler at all. Martin Luther would never dream of doing anything like that, but it does go to show just what an important part going to the bathroom has had in human history.


Stalinism. This is the form of Communism (see Communism above) that has a lot to do with Joseph Stalin, just like Leninism is the form of Communism that has a lot to do with Lenin, and Maoism is the form of Communism that has a lot to do with Mao Zedong.

Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union for around 40 years, and he killed millions and millions of his own people. Yet they still loved him. Stalinism means using terror and violence to make Communist dreams come true. But Stalin also killed all those people because he was constantly thinking people were plotting against him.

Even though Stalin killed millions of people, he still had a good sense of humor. One day, during a very important conference about World War II, the President of the United States, who was Franklin Roosevelt, said to Stalin that the Polish people had a game cock in their hand, which meant they would have some sort of a big advantage after the war was over. It's hard to know what President Roosevelt meant by that.

Anyway, no sooner did President Roosevelt say that the Polish people had a game cock in their hand, than Joseph Stalin very spontaneously said, "It is good to have a cock." He was telling a naughty joke, but it's okay to repeat because it shows how world leaders work hard to keep their sense of humor despite adversity.


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