The latter is likely to be less bumpy, but tough times will still lie ahead. Unemployment will soar, government funds for health, education, welfare and much else besides will wither away, but there will be ways to cope. In order to sustain a cohesive society in straitened circumstances words like community,reciprocity and trust will have to come to the fore. Everything will have to be more local and civility will be key: we must all listen respectfully to each others arguments and pursue the best solutions even if they aren’t efficient according to the old rules. Everything will be leaner, but we might just be okay.
“The concept of globalisation is dismissed in a couple of paragraphs as a ‘brief anomaly’ and a ‘short-lived model of connectedness and incoherence”
As and when the wheels come off the global economic wagon it’s to be hoped that Fleming’s cheery forecast is accurate. Until then, his expansive musings on these and many other topics can be found in one of the strangest, but in many ways one of the most enthralling books I’ve read in a very long time. As might be expected, some of the longer entries in this dictionary of ideas focus on economic life. So, rather daringly, do some of the shorter ones. The concept of globalisation is dismissed in a couple of paragraphs as a ‘brief anomaly’ and a ‘short-lived model of connectedness and incoherence.’Fleming’s vision of a tolerable future was unusually wide-ranging, however. It required us to discuss things in transparent, honest ways so a host of logical fallacies and rhetorical dead-ends are defined in withering ways: ‘Balletic debate,’ for instance, where the participants are ‘so fluent they can dance past each other in a performance of great beauty and skill. But to no purpose.’ Or the ‘Devil’s Voice,’ defined as ‘maintaining an argument on the ambiguous borderline between serious and ‘only joking’. This allows the commentator to back both horses in a two-horse race.’
Communal solidarity was, for Fleming, utterly dependent on a thriving culture, construed in the broadest sense, so we have entries on everything from ‘carnival’ to ‘religion’, and from ‘eroticism’ to ‘play.’ The tone is sometimes earnest, occasionally censorious, but really rather witty from time to time. ‘Intoxication’ is defined as ‘the condition that arises when an enthusiast encounters someone with whom he can share his passion.’ We’re informed that use of the ‘f-word’ in an argument ‘may reveal that you are so high on certainty that you have forgotten to make any argument at all. And yet, in the presence of bad faith, shock and absence, the f-word may well be justified.’
In his foreword, Jonathon Porritt offers some sage advice. It would be wise to approach this book as ‘an idiosyncratic almanac’ or ‘an apothecary’s storeroom’ rather than ploughing through it from cover to cover. It’s far from certain that you’ll be convinced by every word the late Fleming had to say, but you’ll envy his optimism and respect his obvious learning across so many topics. He defines ‘well-being’ as ‘accomplishment, laughter and the love of friends’. The cause is also helped by someone writing this mad-cap, passionate book that reminded me very much of those compendia of knowledge pulled together by Renaissance polymaths who didn’t care a jot about convention. Those were the days.