“12 Books that Changed the World” by Melvyn Bragg includes summaries and narratives about books that caused major historical shifts in thinking. He explains that his choices were to include, “…books that I could prove had changed, rootedly, the lives of people all over the land…” (321) The topics include science, women’s writes, slavery, religion, sports, technological inventions, social structure, and literature. He gives a brief summary of these writings and their context. He also includes interesting images of some of the texts and photographs of some of the authors.
Reading this book caused me to wonder what might be the next major shift in the thinking of Western society. The internet without a doubt has been a recent major technological change in our world. As my area of interest is religion and philosophy I have been thinking about shifts in these areas.
Recently, I had a discussion with a brilliant philosophy instructor who has been teaching for many years in higher education. Several of those years in an ivy league university. When he was a student in college he had the opportunity to hear Jacques Derrida speak. Derrida spoke on the concept of “deconstruction.” According to my philosophy instructor friend, this concept is a form of radical-relativism. It determines that none of our concepts have meaning. Therefore, truth is basically relative. Truth is only based on one’s perceptions. At the end of Derrida’s lecture my friend’s mentor and professor raised his hand. He said, “So you just said the Yankees are going to win this year.” Derrida said, “What, I didn’t say that.” The professor said, “Yes, you did because that is what I heard you say.” Evidently, Derrida became very angry at this statement.
My friend explained that this type of thinking – no meaning, no absolutes, etc. has seeped into American thought and destroyed educational departments and societal thought. No matter how much evidence is put forth, a student that believes in philosophical deconstructionism can determine that it is an opinion. It is relative. I remember reading Heidegger and Nietzsche when I was a student in college. The postmodern mindset and nihilistic philosophies crushed my spirit but also strengthened my mental resolve. And now, at least in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department in which I teach instructors do not buy in to the deconstructionist philosophy. You can’t say, “there are no absolute truths” because you must claim to be stating one.
So, the shift that I see happening is a new surge of seeking “truth/s” and Truth, especially in the areas of religion and philosophy.
The authors of Bragg’s books drastically shifted the thinking of individuals and the direction of Western society. Isaac Newton gave us a new understanding of the natural world through mathematics. Marie Stopes taught us about married women and sex, Charles Darwin shared his observations of species adaptation, William Wilberforce enlightened us on the evils of slavery, Mary Wollstonecraft challenged us to think about rights for women, and the writers of the King James Bible translation changed the religious thinking of millions.
What types of new truths do you think might emerge from this shift from deconstruction to construction? What are the challenges and/or pitfalls associated with this venture? What are the rewards?
Bragg, Melvin. “12 Books that Changed the World”. London, Great Britain. Hodder and Stoughton, 2006.