Conventional Wisdom: The more things change, the more they stay the same

This week, go against the grain.

Source: Conventional Wisdom

Challenging the conventional wisdom is a tricky business. When we say conventional wisdom, we are pertaining to those long-held beliefs that are not necessarily true in its empirical sense, but believed to be true because they have been passed to one generation after generation. Obviously, the reiteration of the official stories do not make the narratives more true, but at the same time, the lack of truthfulness of the official stories is not mandatory to make such stories be canonized as the truth.

Now we have come to an age where we are allowed to challenge those conventional wisdom without getting into trouble. We are now modern and progressive as they say to think for ourselves independently unlike our ancestors in the middle-ages, who blindly embraced wisdom imposed to them by the contemporary authorities. Quite understandably, because back in those days, when one slightly deviates from official knowledge, wisdom, or practices, one runs the risk to be burned at the stake on the grounds of heresy.

This might explains why Copernicus was coy about his findings at that time that the earth is not the centre of the universe while implicating that the sun is at its centre. His discovery could get him into trouble. Like for instance, Bruno Giordano who was burned in the stakes because he publicly subscribed to the ideas of Copernicus.

Then, there is Charles Darwin who removed the homo sapience sapience from the centre of all living creatures. On the contrary to what the conventions might say, Darwin postulates that human beings are not transcendent to their environment but rather, integral part of the whole scheme of life. Like other living creatures, human beings are also gradually but continuously changing. While we are at evolution, it is also quite interesting to stress that not only nature evolves, but the way we see things and the way we think of them are also evolving.

Sigmund Freud also did something that was very unconventional in his time. He de-centred the conscious mind when he suggested that we are also governed by the things we do not necessarily know, namely by our sub-conscious mind. It questions whether human beings are really rational, coherent, and controlled governed by reason. There are so many things that we do not know and yet have huge influence in our lives and our whole being. The concept of sub-consciousness transpired during high modernity in which rationality, reason, objectivity, and coherence among many other things are prioritized while irrationality, emotion, subjectivity, and chaos are frowned upon. It is therefore not surprising why most of Freud’s contemporary found his thesis utterly ridiculous.

However, it is important to stress that Sigmund Freud is the first white learned heterosexual man who has actually listened to women and entertained the idea that women have something important to say. At the same time, it should be equally acknowledged that he has also objectified women in the process. Why is the blame always on the mother when things go wrong in our lives? Not to mention how women are vilified in his Seduction Theory, a thesis that I will not address here. The point that I am making here is that while Sigmund Freud and many others are challenging the status quo, another conventions are being sustained. In other words, to quote Donald Donham: ‘in resisting one form of domination, another is reinforced’ (2002:419).

Going back to what has been mentioned at the beginning of this response to this week’s writing challenge, challenging conventions is a tricky business. It is tricky because on the one hand, it might seems that we are challenging the predominantly held views, which needless to say, makes us feel that we have evolved and have achieved a higher level of consciousness than our predecessors, while on the other, we are also sustaining the conventions of linear thinking in which the idea that the people in the past are stupid and backward, while we are today intelligent and progressive. If that might be true, we should worry what the future generation might think of us. For sure, we are committing a crime against humanity and beyond we do not know we are committing.

Darwinian’s evolution theory stresses linear growth as if there is just one way to grow. It sustains the idea that we can only progress forward and that we could only be better, which I doubt very much. Development is unpredictable. It can go in many different ways that are not necessarily progressive, but rather involves many backlashes and step backs.

When Copernicus removed the earth at the centre of the universe, he simultaneously put the sun at the centre of it. By implication, the solar system (although has yet to be coined that time) has become the centre of the universe. Again, the earth has been removed from the centre only to put us once again on the centre. Today, astronomers provide unimpeachable evidences that the solar system is located in the far periphery of the immense entirety of the universe.

To conclude, I challenge the notion that we are indeed capable of challenging the conventions. While we might think that we are interrogating any predominant views held by many others we may or may not find utterly ridiculous, it is quite easy to find oneself in sustaining yet another conventions. Conventions have nothing to do with the truth, but with acclimation. Therefore, a resistance to orthodoxy cease to be an alternative until it has been mainstreamed through acclimation and become the convention itself. Ideas are new and revolutionary until they are not anymore.

In terms of authenticity, whether the narratives are true or not, they become true in the minds of others when such narratives are received, accepted and reiterated. When we challenge those narratives, we are challenging them within the paradigm that sustains the status quo we are challenging in the first place. The notion that we have all evolved and that we are more conscious than people in the past must be interrogated, because I am quite convinced that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Donham, Donald L. “Freeing South Africa: The ‘Modernization’ of Male-Male Sexuality in Soweto.” Inda, Jonathan Xavier and Renato Rosaldo. Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Malden, Oxford, Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. 410-427.

Haraway, Dona. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008.