DEBATE OF THE DAY:Should we all be more wacky?
IN THE NEWS: A bizarre story from the American midwest has some dwelling on what we have lost. They think a slightly madder world would be a happier place.
One bright Wednesday morning, 911 operators in the US state of Nebraska received a strange phone call. The caller told them there was a car driving through the city of Norfolk with a cow in the passenger seat.
Police duly attended the scene, to be greeted by an enormous Watusi bull called Howdy Doody sticking out of the windscreen.
As the story broke, amidst all the hilarity, on this side of the pond there was also a touch of sadness — and envy.
Social science study was the birthplace of individual liberty, the principle that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they like as long as it does not harm anyone else.
19th-Century philosopher, John Stuart Mill, took this to its extremes. He argued that eccentricity makes society better and bolder.
Some Americans certainly seem to know the value of nonconformity. One journalist, writing in the Washington Post, declared that the Howdy Doody incident is “what makes America great”. The police at the scene were less impressed, dispatching the animal straight back home.
But here, some lament, Howdy Doodies are a dying breed. Once, they say, we had such wonderful eccentrics as the fifth Duke of Portland, who built an entire house underground.
So what killed the great eccentric lifestyle?
Some believe the answer is political. In these days of economic crisis, social decay, and collapsing schools, they suggest, it is hard to find the will to be silly.
Others say the problem has to do with culture. In the 1960s, thinker Herbert Marcuse argued that the rise of mass media was making everyone more conformist.
But others think we should not mourn the loss of eccentricity. People who want to live as recluses or drive cows around, they say, are doing nothing useful for the rest of society.
Should we all be more wacky?
Eccentric people are cleverer and more inventive. And they just make life a lot more fun. Being a bit nonconformist could do us all good.
People who think they are wacky are often really just annoying and disruptive. Even when they are not, they do very little for their fellow citizens. If people took life more seriously it would be better for everyone.
There is no real conflict between being wacky and being serious. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued true maturity meant regaining “the seriousness that one had as a child at play”. We can be both serious and playful.
John Stuart Mill-A 19th Century English philosopher who wrote about freedom and democracy. Eccentric-Unconventional or erratic. Herbert Marcuse-A German philosopher who was part of the Frankfurt school. Mass media-Media that reaches a large audience, such as television, newspapers, radio, the Internet and more. Conformist-Going along with (or conforming) to what others do.