When anyone mentions fashion, we tend to think of clothes, the latest designer trends and so on. Indeed, there is a huge, multi-million pound business based on fashion in clothing. But, fashion is not restricted to clothes or other relatively superficial matters. There are also fashions in thought and, because of that, fashions in behaviour. For example, think about how certain ideas have changed since your childhood. Changes in people’s thinking about same sex relationships is a clear instance of what I have in mind. With the changes in thinking have come changes in attitude, changes in behaviour and changes in how we relate to one another.
These changes were in large part due to years of campaigning and political pressure being brought to bear to tackle the injustice of certain people being discriminated against. There were therefore reasons for the changes. This is often how changes in our thinking come about. However, it is not the only way. Ideas also follow trends, just like clothes and popular music do.
This reflects a tendency to value the new, to see novelty as a good thing in its own right, while well-established ideas can be seen as dusty and old fashioned, to be abandoned on the scrapheap of history (even though they may be very valuable and useful ideas). The fact that an idea is perceived as new can make it appear exciting and give it extra appeal. Novelty brings a degree of glamour. It gives it some sort of extra standing, as if the very fact that something is new and different makes it valuable.
However, if you have been around long enough, you will be aware that ideas come around for a second or third time, generally with a different name, spin or gloss (but basically a well-established idea) and get a new lease of life until another ‘new’ idea comes along to take its place as the height of fashion. We often laugh about ‘that old chestnut’, when an old idea makes a reappearance in a new garb or in a slightly modified form, presented it as if it is an exciting new way of thinking.
This is not to say that we should disregard new ideas just because they are new (or appear to be) and value only ideas that are well established, as that would stifle innovation and limit our options for moving forward constructively. Valuing something just because it is ‘traditional’ can be just as misleading as valuing something just because it is new. Whether an idea is new or old is not (or should not be) the issue; what is important is how useful the idea is in helping us understand whatever it relates to and that it is a valid idea worthy of our attention.
So, the important message is this: don’t allow yourself to be seduced into thinking that an idea has value just because it is new. Many ideas that appear new are anything but, and even in those circumstances where an idea is genuinely new, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily any better than the ideas that preceded it. We need to be able get past fashions in thinking and be prepared to weigh up ideas in their own right, evaluate their legitimacy and what use they are, regardless of whether they reflect the latest ‘in’ trend or ideas that have been around for centuries or even millennia.
Adopting ideas just because they are perceived as new and exciting can lead us astray, distort our perception and leave us in some difficulties in various ways. Uncritically following fashions in ideas is therefore not a wise move.