‘Only Fish Swim in Schools’

Economist Joseph Schumpeter once quipped, ‘only fish swim in schools.’ So much of intellectual life is divided into ‘schools’ of thought.

German historical, Chicago, Austrian, Neoclassical, Keynesian, etc. in economics.

Gestalt, Behaviourism, Psycho-dynamic, Cognitive, Developmental, Clinical, Evolutionary, Biological, etc. in psychology.

Moral, Formalism, Marxist, Reader-response, Structuralism, Post-structuralism, Feminist, New Historical, etc. in literary criticism.

Empiricism, Rationalism, Idealism, Positivism, Stoicism, Romanticism, Scepticism, etc. in philosophy.

To name just a few schools of thought in a few fields. The point is that there are schools of thought in every field (linguistics has, to name just two, generativism and functionalism). These schools are neatly defined and given out as some sort of definitive list of ‘this is how to think about this field.’

Yet, is it really that simply? It seems that there is a tendency to divide everything up into  terms of ‘black and white,’ ‘us versus them,’ or ‘good versus evil.’  Though in some things this may be nigh on true, usually such thinking is downright wrong.

Yet, this type of thinking prevails in today’s world. Sport is all about ‘our team’ versus ‘their team,’ most television characters are basically flat either on the side of the protagonist or the antagonist, politics is all about ‘democrats’ versus ‘republicans.’ History is generally taught as ‘heroes’ versus ‘villains.’ One must takes a side on a historical figure, it seems. For example, Thomas Jefferson can either be seen as a hero or a villain, never as what he was a COMPLEX HUMAN!

Humans are messy and complex. So is their thinking!

To try to fit messy humans into neatly defined schools of thoughts is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  There is of course a reason for keeping people in their schools of thought. It would seem that there exists, to use a phrase from historian Thomas E. Woods, Ph.D., ‘an index card of allowable opinion.’

Anyone that thinks outside of the neatly defined schools of thought is a danger to this allowed opinion. Especially if they believe in taking anything one can from anyone, even their so-called intellectual enemy.

Being an independent thinker, (that is a true independent thinker who lets others think out index card) means looking past schools of thought (not ignoring them, different schools have different insights, knowing the basics of each school can aid in finding the desired help) and thinking for oneself. This also means questioning everything, which is a very difficult task because includes question one’s own deeply held beliefs and the school of thought one agrees with as while as things outside one’s ‘school of thought.’

Remember, ‘only fish swim in schools.’